Tonight's powerful episode of Dispatches (Channel 4, 10pm) reports on the experiences of children and young people with complex needs in mental health hospitals, in the context of the Government's and NHS' aim to move people out of inappropriate inpatient units and into specialist care in the community.

Please be aware that this film contains upsetting scenes. 

The episode follows three families, including two whose children are on the autism spectrum, who raise very serious concerns about their children’s treatment and rights at a mental health hospital.

photograph of a smiling young woman next to a small white pony Photo: Channel 4, Dispatches: Fauzia, who in the film looks back at her time in an inpatient unit 

We believe their voices must be heard and have this week launched a joint campaign (and petition) with YoungMinds, calling on the Government to set out strong, enforceable rights to protect children in mental health hospitals, and their families, when they need it most.

While autism is not a mental health problem and, like anyone else, it is perfectly possible to be on the autism spectrum and have good mental health, we know that lots of autistic people develop mental health problems, often connected to a lack of appropriate support. When that happens, they need support from people who understand them and understand autism.

Our campaign calls for the NHS in England to adopt our new Always Charter, which sets out 12 rights that young people in inpatient units and their families should have, always. These include important things like being as close to home as possible and being cared for by professionals who understand their needs. 

Mark Lever, Chief Executive of The National Autistic Society, said: 

The families in the film raise very serious concerns about the care their children have received and how they themselves have been treated. It’s essential their voices are heard.

"Families should be fully involved in decisions about the care of their loved ones. Yet our joint survey with YoungMinds suggests that many parents of children and young people in mental health inpatient units feel powerless, with 44% saying they felt unable to challenge decisions about their son’s or daughter's care and over half (52%) reporting they did not know what rights their child had in hospital.
“Without sufficient rights and alternative care in the community, children and young people on the autism spectrum are still being placed in inappropriate units far away from their family. In fact, the latest NHS figures show that the numbers of young people on the autism spectrum and/or with a learning disability in an inpatient unit are at their highest since data collection began in March 2015.
“NHS England is trying to address this unacceptable situation through its Transforming Care programme and by increasing specialist care in the community. But, as the latest figures show, it's not happening fast enough. Crucially, this must be accompanied by Government action to strengthen the rights of children and their parents. This is why we and YoungMinds launched our Always Charter this week, which sets out 12 rights that young people in inpatient units and their families should always have.”
Sign our petition to strengthen the rights and voices of children and parents today.
For more information and support:

  • If you need urgent emotional support contact the Samaritans on Freephone number 116 123
  • If it is an emergency, call 999.
  • If you have concerns about your own or someone else’s health, you should speak to your GP and make sure they know that you're autistic, or that the person you're worried about is.
  • Along with Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, we've produced a guide for families who would like to campaign on this issue. Mencap have also produced information on the rights of people in inpatient units.
  • If you are concerned or would like advice about autism and mental health, please contact our Helpline. Please note, the Helpline is open 10am-4pm Monday-Thursday and 9am-3pm on Friday
  • If you’re concerned about the care you or someone else has experienced, you can raise this with the Care Quality Commission