Young people with autism and learning disabilities are suffering human rights abuses due to the impact of the coronavirus lockdown, an investigation has found.
A cross-party committee of MPs and lords listened to evidence from the mothers of two young people detained in institutions whose mental health spiralled downhill when the pandemic meant they were unable to see their parents.
Now the Joint Committee on Human Rights has made a number of recommendations to protect those who are most vulnerable.
Andrea Attree told the hearing: “Dannielle suffers with paranoia so she thinks sometimes that I don’t want to come or I don’t like her.
“It just heightens all those anxieties and then obviously the more anxious she becomes, the more she self-harms and it’s just a vicious circle.”
Before lockdown, Andrea would visit twice a week on set days but for seven weeks she wasn’t allowed to see her daughter, who is 23, even once.
“It’s incredibly hard to see your daughter destroying herself,” she said.
“She feels she has got nothing to live for, therefore at any given opportunity she will take that opportunity to try and end her life.”
Chairwoman of the committee Harriet Harman MP said making sure parents are allowed to visit is vital.
“The system shouldn’t just treat them like a nuisance, because without parental visits often the young person gets worse and then is more subjected to forcible constraint and solitary confinement and then deteriorates again,” she said.
A spokesperson for the NHS said the national guidance sent to hospitals and other local health services has always supported visits across all inpatient settings “when local organisations agree it is safe and appropriate to do so”, adding that there must be “no blanket ban”.
But to ensure this happens, the report calls on NHS England to write to hospitals making sure they allow families access.
The recommendations to the government also add that figures on use of restraint and segregation must be published weekly by institutions.
Care Quality Commission inspections should be unannounced and the CQC must prioritise inspections where there’s been a history of abuse or malpractice and poor ratings.
There are also calls for a hotline to be set up for patients, families and staff to report abuse.
And priority should be given to discharging young people into safe homes in the community.
Finally, detailed data must be provided about those who have contracted and died from COVID-19.
Edel Harris, chief executive of the charity Mencap, welcomed the report but added: “What we really want is a much longer-term reform and investment in the whole social care system, because many young people with a learning disability and/or autism who are currently in these long-stay institutions are locked away, often many, many miles from their families.”
Jane Harris, director of external affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “The autism mental health crisis has been a reality for much longer than coronavirus, but the pandemic has compounded thousands of people’s trauma.
“The government and NHS England have the power to end this scandal once and for all, by investing in the social care and community mental health services autistic people need. Only this will end this vicious cycle.”
For Andrea, the recommendations are “a massive step in the right direction”, but she says they will only be worthwhile if they are enforced and monitored.