Today we have published the Government’s formal response to the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report 'The detention of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism' published on 1 November 2019 and those made in its report 'Human Rights and the Government’s response to COVID-19: The detention of young people who are autistic and/or have learning disabilities' published on 12 June 2020. A copy of the response will be deposited in the Libraries of both Houses.
We welcome the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ (JCHR) reports and their recommendations. Protecting the rights of people with a learning disability and of autistic people is a matter of the utmost importance to the Government. Rights must be upheld regardless of wider circumstances, no matter how unprecedented. This is especially so for those who may be at a particularly vulnerable time in their lives, in crisis or receiving treatment in specialist mental health inpatient settings. The Government’s manifesto committed to improve how people with a learning disability/and or autistic people are treated in law and to make it easier for them to be discharged from hospital in recognition of some of the challenges faced by this group of people.
The JCHR made recommendations for Government and its system partners to improve the care and support of people with a learning disability and/or autism which was not found to always meet the high standard we would expect for each and every individual.
We have carefully considered these recommendations and are accepting in full or in principle the vast majority, including:
- The JCHR have specifically recommended that a legal duty is introduced on Local Authorities and Clinical Commissioning Groups to ensure the availability of sufficient community-based services. We have accepted this recommendation in principle and plan to consult on new duties to ensure an adequate supply of community services for people with learning disabilities and autistic people.
- In response to the recommendation that families should not be prevented from speaking out about poor care, we will introduce guidance on the use of injunctions to stop the inappropriate use of injunctions and ensure that families are able to speak out, driving up the standard of care for people with a learning disability and/or autism.
- This guidance will require health bodies to notify the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care of their intention to seek an injunction. This will enable us to monitor these instances and take further action such as following up with the body in question to seek additional information on the grounds seeking the injunction if required.
We propose to take forward a number of recommendations made by the JCHR through reform of the Mental Health Act and more detail will be provided in a Mental Health Act White Paper in due course. Reforming the Mental Health Act will help to ensure that when someone is admitted to hospital, the care they receive is therapeutic and beneficial and will have a positive impact for people with a learning disability and/or autistic people who are admitted for assessment or treatment. The White Paper will provide an opportunity to consult on changes as recommended by the JCHR including:
- Placing Care, Education and Treatment Reviews (CETR) on a statutory footing. This would help to ensure that the CETR process is more robust and that there is greater involvement, where appropriate, of families. This should ensure that the process for resolving problems that keep people in hospital for longer than they should is improved along with improving current and future care planning, including plans for leaving hospital.
- Reforming the detention criteria and the detention process should reduce inequalities by making sure inpatient care for people with a learning disability or autistic people is only used when it offers clear benefits. For those who need inpatient care, having a say in the care they receive and requiring care to be therapeutic should ensure that people with a learning disability or autism are treated with the same dignity and respect that we would all expect.
- Enforcing and enhancing the rights of individuals and families to advocacy will be addressed, including through recommendations on improving access to Independent Mental Health Advocates, which would expect to have a positive impact in supporting individuals with learning disabilities and autistic people and their families.
The action we are taking in responding to these recommendations will help to ensure that people with a learning disability and autistic people are supported to live fulfilling lives in the community and that if they are admitted to hospital, the care they receive is both therapeutic and beneficial. The steps we are taking will also ensure that where appropriate family members will have a greater input into the care and support their loved ones receive. We must remain committed to delivering on our existing plans and on the new steps set out in this response.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords