Government urged to tackle abuse of people with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals

Charities call on the government to stop abuse at mental health institutions following television documentary.

Charities call on the government to stop abuse at mental health institutions following television documentary.

Fauzia Yasmin Hussain was 15 when she admitted to St Andrew's
Healthcare in Northampton. Picture: C4

A television documentary exposing failures in the care of people with learning disabilities at mental health hospitals has led to calls for the government to urgently address the issue.

The comments from mental health charities followed an episode of Channel 4 programme Dispatches, aired on 1 March, which focused on St Andrew's Healthcare in Northampton, a provider of specialist mental health care.

The Dispatches investigation claimed that Fauzia Yasmin Hussain, a teenager who was being treated for Tourette's and autism, was segregated at St Andrew's and given high doses of drugs.

Like prisoners 

Her family said she was mostly in segregation for 22 months in a room with little natural daylight. They contacted former health and care minister, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, who said he was 'horrified' after visiting the hospital and seeing Ms Hussain treated like a prisoner in a cell.

Ms Hussain was 15 when she admitted to the facility in 2012 and left in 2014 after her family found another care provider.

The report also revealed that another patient, Bill Johnson, who had been at St Andrew's since 1993, died following severe constipation in 2011. It was claimed he was being prescribed the anti-psychotic drug Clozapine, which has a side effect of constipation.

In January 2015 NHS England set out a programme of work called Transforming Care, to improve services for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Risk of abuse 

The programme was designed to drive 'system-wide change' and strengthen individual rights.

In a joint statement, Mencap chief executive Jan Tregelles and Challenging Behaviour Foundation chief executive Viv Cooper said that long-stay institutions 'that keep people with a learning disability in prison-like settings were meant to have been shut down decades ago'.

They added: 'As it stands the law is failing people with a learning disability, allowing them to remain in units where they are at risk of abuse and neglect. The government must address this urgently.'

Charity YoungMinds has just launched a campaign called Always, asking the government to set out strong, enforceable rights to protect children and young people in mental health hospitals.

Petition support

A petition in support of the campaign has already received nearly 5,000 signatures.

YoungMinds campaigns director Tom Madders said young people should be able to get treatment in their local community, unless there is a clinical need for inpatient care, inwhich case there should be a plan for hospital discharge from day one.

A spokesperson for the Care Quality Commission (CQC)  said it would 'look in detail' at some of the issues raised by Dispatches during an upcoming inspection of St Andrew's in May.

The CQC inspected the facility in June 2016 and said it required improvement. Inspectors noted that restraint was used frequently, with a high proportion of restraint in the prone position, where a patient may be restrained face down.

Allegations refuted

A further investigation was conducted in February this year following concerns raised by the Challenging Behaviour Foundation and Mencap about the use of restraint at St Andrew's. The report is yet to be published, though CQC inspectors did not take any 'urgent action to intervene'.

A statement on the St Andrew's website says that it 'strongly refutes the allegations as either inaccurate, misleading or taken out of context'.

The statement added: 'The safety and well-being of all of our patients, as well as our medical teams, is paramount at all times in our treatment.

'This includes protecting patient confidentiality which cannot, and should not, ever be breeched by any healthcare provider, including ourselves, and prevents us commenting on individuals and their treatment programmes.'

In other news