September 26, 2020
People with a learning disability and autism are being locked in “modern day asylums” following a collapse in community care over lockdown, a charity has warned. 
Use Of Modern Day Asylums For People With Autism Rises In Lockdown As Community Care Collapses
Learning disability charity Mencap said that “huge reductions” in community social care during the pandemic has left many families at “crisis point” – and is leading to an increase in the number of people being admitted into assessment and treatment units (ATUs). 
NHS figures published on Thursday revealed there were 2,100 people, including 220 children, in the specialist in-patient units in England at the end of August – up from 2,045 in April. 
The increase comes despite a pledge by the government to halve the number by 2024, down from 2,890 people in 2015.  
Mencap has warned that patients in these specialist hospitals are at risk of abuse and neglect, with separate NHS figures showing “restrictive interventions” – including physical restraint, chemical sedation and segregation – were used 3,860 times in June alone. 
There are “massive concerns about violations of peoples’ human rights” in these inpatient units, said head of policy Dan Scorer. 
But a dramatic drop in community support since lockdown, including care in the home, day centres and respite care, means some families looking after a loved one with a learning disability or autism are being pushed to BREAKING point, he said. 
A survey of family carers by Mencap revealed that 69% of people with a learning disability has had their social care cut during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A woman in her fifties told the charity how she had been left caring for her “very challenging and strong” 26-year-old son alone for more than 100 hours a week after a loss in community care during the pandemic. 
“I am worn out and exhausted, my son is fully grown with the strength of ten men,” she said. “It has left me feeling depressed and forgotten.”
People with a learning disability or autism are some of the most vulnerable in society, Scorer said. 
He added: “Their families are trying to support someone who has got complex needs. If they don’t have the specialist input from professional teams in the community, then families can enter crisis where they feel they can’t cope anymore.
“And then we have the situation where inpatient admissions to mental health hospitals take place.” 
Once admitted to these inpatient units, many people end up staying for years.
NHS data shows that more than half of the people with a learning disability or autism in hospital had been there for more than two years. But it is not just people living with their families who are being affected by a drop off in community support during the pandemic. 
One woman, who asked not to be named, described how her daughter had been “locked away” in inpatient units for almost 15 years. 
She was due to be discharged into a community placement in March – but “everything was put on hold” due to coronavirus. 
“This came as a devastating blow to our family,” the mum said. “We had been planning for her next stage of life, for her to finally achieve a level of independence, and her freedom was almost in grasp.“This has had a massive impact on my daughter. Not knowing when she will be coming home has led to her anxiety levels increasing.” 
Lockdown meant the family were also unable to visit their daughter, who was only allowed to go for walks in the unit’s small courtyard. Despite her daughter developing suspected Coronavirus during lockdown, the woman said the hardest thing about the Covid-19 crisis has been “not having a discharge date we can look forward to”. 
“We hope that she will be out before her next birthday so that we can celebrate together, that’s all we can do to help keep us going.”
Mencap has now called for an urgent funding boost from the government to prevent other families being pushed into crisis. 
Scorer said: “We need to see central government stepping up and putting into place an emergency funding package and a long-term financial settlement for social care so local councils have the money they need to develop and deliver proper services that meet people’s needs.” 
Meanwhile Jackie O’Sullivan, executive director of communications, added: “Over 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autism are still locked up in modern day asylums.
“Change was already long overdue, and now COVID-19 has caused even more delays. While the pandemic is an unprecedented situation, it is no reason to allow Human Rights abuses to continue.” 
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care told HuffPost UK: “We are committed to ensuring people with a learning disability and autistic people are supported to have the best possible quality of life in their community.“We are determined to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities or autism in mental health hospitals and have announced the £62m Community Discharge Grant to help speed up this process.”Related... Thousands Of People With Learning Disabilities Are Stuck Living In Hospitals End 'Horrific' Detention Of Young People With Autism And Learning Disabilities – Report
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