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Sister fights for her brother trapped in mental health hospital

Beckii Davies
Beckii Davies Image credit:

Over 2,000 people with learning disabilities and/or autism are still being confined to assessment and treatment units (ATUs) across England despite the government promising more patients will be allowed to live at home.

Since the Winterbourne View scandal ten years ago when the private hospital near Bristol was exposed for abusing their vulnerable residents NHS England and the government pledged to cut the number of people being held in ATUs.

But they failed to meet their targets in 2019 and 2020, which have been pushed back to 2024.

Beckii Davies (pictured above) from Thirsk, North Yorkshire is concerned about her 26-year-old brother who was transferred to a secure hospital in County Durham three years ago.

She believes since being at the ATU his mental health has deteriorated.

"It's not the correct placement for people with learning disabilities and autism," Davies told Sky News.

"It makes them more anxious, and can make them worse because they don't know when they're going to get out

"There's no clear direction, they don't get much hope.

"We had a good period of where he was settled for a good six to 12 months but obviously there was nowhere for him to go, so he had to stay there and he kept asking when he wanted to come home.

"We couldn't give him an answer, which made him deteriorate back to the way he was before, because he wanted to get out.”

To mark ten years on from the Winterbourne View scandal Labour MP and member of the Health and Social Care Select Committee, Barbara Keeley, chaired a debate at Westminster Hall on Thursday.

"It's 10 years since the scandal of Winterbourne View, when the abuse of people in a unit like that first came to light, and it is a complete failure of government to take the action that they pledged to do when that appalling abuse was revealed," she told Sky News.

"Why should autistic people and people with learning difficulties be treated this way? I want to show that they're not invisible, that we do care, and that we are listening to their issues."

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: "People with autism and those living with learning disabilities deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and have the best possible quality of life in their community.

"We are determined to continue to reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autistic people in mental health hospitals and the reliance on inpatient care by investing in community services and supporting discharges with £62m."

Davies’ brother has now been placed in secure accommodation where he is being cared for by a team up to 15 people, but he is still in the hospital after his behaviour continued to deteriorate.

Responding to the criticisms an NHS spokesperson said: "Supporting people with autism and a learning disability is a priority for the NHS and since 2015 the number of people in a specialist hospital has reduced by around a third.

"The NHS Long Term Plan commits to reducing this number even further through increasing investment in community support and this is backed by an extra £25m this year."

Ruth Hill, chief operating officer at Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which operates the hospital where Davies’ brother has been held at since 2019 under the Mental Health Act, defended the work carried out at the ATU.

 "We are committed to improving the lives of people with mental health needs, a learning disability or autism," she said.

"We continue to work closely with families and carers, commissioners and local community teams and make every effort to support adults with a learning disability to live in the community with a bespoke package of care."

Beckii Davies’ campaign is being supported by the learning disability charity Mencap.