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Pandemic has led to human rights abuses of young people with autism or learning disabilities who have been detained: MPs

The coronavirus crisis has resulted in human rights abuses of young people who are autistic or have learning disabilities and have been detained, the Joint Committee on Human Rights has claimed.

In a report, Human Rights and the Government's response to COVID-19: the detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities, the committee warned that young people's rights were at risk through unlawful blanket bans on visits, the suspension of routine inspections, increased use of restraint and solitary confinement, and the vulnerability of those in detention to infection with Covid-19.

On May 18, it heard from parents of young people who are autistic and/or have a learning disability and are currently detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, as well as the Care Quality Commission and NHS England and NHS Improvement.

The committee, which heard that the mothers of these young people had serious concerns about their treatment, has called for a number of key actions to be taken including:

  • NHS England must write immediately to all hospitals, including private ones in which it commissions placements, “stating that they must allow families to visit their loved ones, unless a risk assessment has been carried out relating to the individual's circumstances which demonstrates that there are clear reasons specific to the individual's circumstances why it would not be safe to do so”.
  • Figures on the use of restrictive practice, including physical and medical restraint and any form of segregation, detailing any incidences which go beyond 22 hours per day and amount to solitary confinement, must be published weekly by the institutions. These figures must be provided to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and reported to Parliament;
  • The Care Quality Commission (CQC) should carry out all their inspections unannounced; “this is particularly important where any allegation of abuse is reported.”
  • The CQC must prioritise in-person inspections at institutions with a history of abuse/malpractice, and those which have been rated inadequate/requires improvement;
  • The CQC should set up a telephone hotline to enable all patients, families, and staff to report concerns or complaints during this period;
  • Rapidly progressing the discharge of young people to safe homes in the community must be a top priority for the Government; and
  • Comprehensive data about the number of those who are autistic and/or learning disabled who have contracted and died of Covid-19 must be made available and include a focus on those in detention, for whom the state has heightened responsibility for their right to life.

The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said: "Even in normal circumstances there is not sufficient protection against abuse of young people with autism and/or who have learning disabilities are at risk of abuse. But the risk is even greater under lockdown with parental visits banned in some institutions and without routine inspections. 
“The JCHR is telling the government that protecting these young people is urgent and makes tough recommendations including ensuring parental visits are permitted discharging as many of the young people as possible into the community and a telephone hotline for reporting abuse. There's always a danger to vulnerable people in closed institutions. The COVID-19 lockdown increases that danger and the government must recognise it and take action"

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