Opinion Piece: 'Urgent Progress Needed To Reduce The Number of People With Learning Disabilities & Autism In Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs)'

The Conservative Disability Group welcomes the ongoing commitment by the Government to reduce the numbers of people with learning disabilities and autism who are living in Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs). 

Whilst it is very concerning that NHS England has failed to meet its 2015 commitment to close at least 35% of in-patient beds by March, it is welcome to see a new target to close 50% of beds in the recently published NHS Long Term Plan. However, the five year timescale to achieve this has caused significant concern and the rationale for this further delay needs explaining.

We welcome the recent decision by the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care to ask the CQC to review the number of people who are subject to seclusion and restraint in such facilities. These are positive steps to address unacceptable practices against children, young people and adults with a learning disability and/or autism.

The commitment to close half of in-patient beds and the CQC Review are encouraging moves and the CDG shares the concerns of the Secretary of State about this practice and prevalence of seclusion, medication and physical restraint. While the commitment in the Long Term Plan is welcome, we would like to see it go further and faster, with more progress made to reduce the numbers of people who are detained under the Mental Health Act in such facilities.

As a society we have made significant progress to ensure some of the most vulnerable people in our society with learning disabilities and autism can live with dignity and respect and the government is to be commended for this. However we would urge the Secretary of State to show more ambition in his commitment, so that we can reduce more people living in such facilities and more quickly – I urge the Government to step up its approach so that we can see more progress in this area. The human rights of people with learning disabilities and autism must be respected.  

The high prevalence of seclusion, medication and physical restraint is a major concern and as the CDG we will be writing to the Secretary of State calling for further progress in this area and would welcome the opportunity to meet with him to discuss our concerns in detail and the importance of building on the, albeit slow, progress already made. 

Peter Hand
Chair, CDG