Close up image of a report on human rights

Today, the Joint Committee on Human Rights published the findings from its inquiry into the detention of young autistic people and people with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals. This inquiry, which we contributed to, confirms yet again that autistic people across England continue to be let down by the NHS and social care.

Despite promises from different governments, the number of autistic people reported in mental health hospitals is continuing to rise. And all too often people are having to stay for many months and even years, miles away from their family and friends – and in some disturbing cases subject to overmedication, inappropriate restraint and isolation.

The Committee’s report calls on the next government to prioritise reducing the number of young autistic people in inpatient care, by setting up a specific government unit and oversight from a secretary of state. Autistic young people, as well as adults, have had to wait too long for improvements to their support. They don’t need any more promises – they need action.

The findings

The report makes lots of important recommendations and we’re glad to see much of what we’ve been campaigning on has been recognised.

They rightly call on the next government to make sure the right services are made available in the community and that the NHS and councils must jointly provide these services. One of the reasons people get stuck in hospitals for long periods of time are the tensions in funding – when someone is in hospital the NHS pays but care in the community is often paid for by councils. That’s why we’ve been calling for health and social care commissioners to work together more closely to fund and provide the support autistic people need, which is something the Committee also recognised.

The report also makes recommendations for how to tackle the autism mental health crisis, including restricting the reasons why someone could be detained under the Mental Health Act. But, we’re really disappointed they haven’t joined our call for an independent review of the definition of autism as a ‘mental disorder’ under that Act. This definition means autistic people can be sectioned without having a treatable mental health condition. This is something we’ve been campaigning to change – and earlier this year, over 200,000 people joined us and autistic campaigner Alexis Quinn to call for this review.

The next government must be the one to tackle this once and for all – autistic people and their families can’t wait any longer.

Response

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said:

This damning report shows that hundreds of autistic people in England are being failed by the NHS and social care.

"Despite repeated promises from different governments, the number of autistic people reported in mental health hospitals keeps going up. Children and adults are being held in hospital against their will for months and often years, miles away from their family. Many are forced to take medication they don’t need, restrained, and kept in isolation. If you’re autistic, being in hospital can be traumatic in itself – let alone in these circumstances.

"One major problem is that there’s not enough basic social care and mental health support for autistic people when they’re at home. Without it, autistic people find themselves in a vicious cycle - forced to go into hospital because there’s no support and then unable to leave because there’s no support. And currently the law says that you can be held in hospital against your will, simply because you’re autistic - even if you don’t have a mental health problem.

"All political parties need to commit in their manifestos to put money into social care and good mental health services for autistic children and adults - and to review mental health law to make it fit for the twenty-first century."

Further information

  • Read more stories about autistic people who’ve been stuck in inpatient care in our Transforming Care: our stories report and find out about the extent of the scandal in our Beyond Transforming Care report.
  • For information about what to do if an autistic family member is at risk or has been admitted to or discharged from a mental health hospital, visit our page on autism and mental health.
  • Bringing us Together have produced this very useful Survival Guide for care and treatment reviews.
  • The All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism, with support from our charity, held an inquiry into the state of support and services for autistic people in England – 10 years on from the Autism Act.
  • In early 2020 we will launch our Autism Inpatient Mental Health Advice and Casework service. Right now, we’re starting recruitment. You can read more and apply on our website.