Young people with learning difficulties left ‘open to abuse’ in coronavirus detention, MPs and peers warn
MPs and peers have called for greater protections for young people detained in mental hospitals
Young adults with learning difficulties being kept in detention are "highly vulnerable" to abuse during the pandemic, a group of MPs and peers have warned.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has urged NHS England to allow the families of young people with autism or learning difficulties to visit their loved ones during the crisis amid fears their human rights are being abused.
It comes after parents of children in mental health hospitals or Assessment and Treatment Units told the group they faced blanket bans on visits, while routine inspections have been suspended due to the lockdown.
Meanwhile, the group warned a "discrepancy" in data gathering had made it difficult to gauge how many young people were being subjected to restraints or placed into solitary confinement for long periods.
The report comes after 14 independent mental health or learning disability hospitals were placed into special measures by the Care Quality Commission in the past year.
The report added: "With families banned from visiting their loved ones and the Care Quality Commission not carrying out routine inspections, these institutions are even more closed than before, and those in them are even more vulnerable to abuse.
"We are very concerned that the abuse that was happening in some services before lockdown, which was exposed by the media, may be even worse now."
In an effort to protect patients, the group has called on the CQC to resume unannounced inspections, especially at insitutions with a history of abuse.
And they called for data on the use of medical or physical restraints and the use of solitary confinement to be reported weekly to Parliament and the Department for Health.
JCHR chair Harriet Harman said the "tough recommendations" should be adopted urgently to ensure patients were not denied their human rights.
"Even in normal circumstances there is not sufficient protection against abuse of young people with autism and/or who have learning disabilities are at risk of abuse. But the risk is even greater under lockdown with parental visits banned and without routine inspections," she said.
"The JCHR is telling the government that protecting these young people is urgent and makes tough recommendations including the reinstatement of parental visits, discharging as many of the young people as possible into the community and a telephone hotline for reporting abuse.
"There’s always a danger to vulnerable people in closed institutions. The COVID-19 lockdown increases that danger and the government must recognise it and take action."