Health secretary ‘moved and appalled’ after report identifies dozens of people spending prolonged periods in isolation
Tue 21 May 2019 08.45 BST
Last modified on Tue 21 May 2019 13.58 BST
The care of every patient stuck in segregation will be independently reviewed, the health secretary has announced, after a report suggested many vulnerable people were being failed.
Matt Hancock said he had been “deeply moved and appalled” by stories of people with autism and learning disabilities spending prolonged periods in isolation in mental health units, and vowed to improve their treatment.
An interim review into the use of restraint, segregation and prolonged seclusion in the health and care sector, published by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) on Tuesday, describes the current system as “not fit for purpose”.
It recommends that the care, safeguarding and discharge plan of every person with learning disabilities or autism held in segregation be examined, as well as that of children detained on mental health wards.
“I have been deeply moved and appalled by the distressing stories of some autistic people and people with learning disabilities spending years detained in mental health units,” Hancock said.
“These vulnerable people are too often left alone, away from their families, friends and communities.
“At its best, the health and care system provides excellent support to people, backed by a dedicated workforce.
“But a small proportion of some of the most vulnerable in society are being failed by a broken system that doesn’t work for them.”
Hancock said independent advocates would review the care of every patient in segregation or long-term seclusion and government-funded specialists would work with families to move people into less restrictive care.
“I hope this is a turning point so everyone receives the care they need,” he said. “I will not let these people down – they deserve better.”
The CQC was told of 62 people in segregation – 42 adults and 20 children, some as young as 11 – and visited 39 to assess their care.
Sixteen had been in segregation for more than a year, while one had spent more than a decade on such a ward and one child had spent almost two-and a half years there, the report said.
Paul Lelliott, deputy chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said: “The 39 people we have visited who are cared for in segregation are in a very vulnerable situation.
“Their world is narrowed to a highly restricted existence in a single room, or small suite of rooms.
“For many, their interactions with other people are characterised by distress and sometimes by the use of force by staff who consider this necessary to protect the person or others from harm.
“They have little or no say over decisions about their lives or their future. Many are also a long way from home, which can make it difficult for families to maintain contact.”
Lelliott said care in some cases “was simply not of an acceptable standard”, with staff poorly trained and unqualified to deal with the complex needs of those they were responsible for.
He added: “The people we have visited have had contact with health, care and education services for many years, pointing to missed opportunities that may have prevented admission to hospital in a crisis because there was nowhere else for them to go.
“These people have been failed by the current system of care and that system must be changed.”
The CQC will report its full findings next year.