Autism Berkshire is calling for urgent action to improve community-based NHS services for people with autism and learning disabilities, after a series of alarming reports about mental health Assessment and Treatment Units (ATUs).
A harrowing BBC 1 Panorama programme investigation of the mistreatment of autistic and learning-disabled patients at a mental health unit this week came in the wake of the publication of official reports by the Children’s Commissioner for England and the Care Quality Commission about people with autism and learning disabilities being held for long periods in ATUs.
Autism Berkshire chief executive Jane Stanford-Beale has written to Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, saying better community-based services should be a priority for the NHS.
At present, improvements to crisis care and specialist support for people with autism and learning disabilities in the community are one of a number of proposals for action in the NHS Long-Term Plan.
In the letter, Jane noted that there were promises of action to improve community services after Panorama exposed similar problems in 2011 at a hospital called Winterbourne View.
Instead, Jane added, “it is hard to find evidence that there has been a determined effort to deliver better care in community settings for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Too many are trapped in isolation in institutions that seem more to resemble prisons, rather than settings offering the care and support they need”.
The letter also highlighted “the lack of early mental health interventions to help children and young people in the community before crises happen”.
Better community services would help to “ensure that people with autism and learning disabilities receive the right care and support in the right setting at the right time – and avoid the kind of situations that have been highlighted once again in this week’s reports and by Panorama“.