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Children facing ‘nightmare’ failings in mental health care | UK News

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Hundreds of children with autism or a learning disability are admitted to mental health hospitals where they can suffer “nightmare” failures of care, the children’s commissioner for England has found.

Anne Longfield found many children are admitted unnecessarily and go on to spend years in institutions as part of a system that is letting them down.

Her report also found “shocking evidence of poor and restrictive practices”, including sedation, segregation and the use of physical restraint.

Children's Commissioner Anne Longfield thinks the summer break is of suitable length
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Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has filed a damning report on mental health care for children

The report concludes: “This research has shown that too many children are admitted to hospital unnecessarily and spending months and years of their childhood in institutions when they do not need to be there.”

Ms Longfield’s report comes at the start of a week that will see a focus on the treatment of those with autism or learning disabilities.

On Tuesday, the Care Quality Commission is expected to publish its own highly critical review of the sector, which will make recommendations to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

These will include closer scrutiny of care by those commissioning it, and reviewing the way the CQC itself inspects learning disability and autism units.

The CQC review follows the exposure of shocking failures of care.

Last October, Sky News revealed that 40 people with a learning disability or autism have died while admitted to secure treatment units since 2015 – and told the story of a man who has spent 19 years in one unit.

Britain's International Development Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt (L) and Britain's Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock take part in a meeting of a conservative research group in Westminster hall in London on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Health Secretary Matt Hanock is to receive recommendations on how to improve mental health care

The government and the NHS has missed its own target of cutting the number of people receiving in-patient care by up to 50% by March, and has now reduced the ambition to a 35% reduction and shifted the deadline back five years.

The children’s commissioner’s report states: “Despite report after report and successive government programmes to address this problem, the number of children in hospital remains unacceptably high.”

The report says 250 children with a learning disability or autism were identified in a mental health hospital in England in February 2019, compared to 110 in March 2015.

Ms Longfield said: “I will never forget the stories I heard from mums and dads at a meeting I arranged for parents with children in these units and their tears of frustration and anger.

“Some of them have a child who has been locked away in a series of rooms for months.

“Others have to listen as they are told by institutions that their child has had to be restrained or forcibly injected with sedatives. They feel powerless and, frankly, at their wits end as to what to do.

“A national strategy is needed to address the values and culture of the wider system across the NHS, education and local government so that a failure to provide earlier help is unacceptable, and admission to hospital or a residential special school is no longer seen as almost inevitable for some children.”

A government spokeswoman said: “We are determined to reduce the number of autistic people or people with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals – significant investment in community support has already led to a 22% reduction since March 2015.”

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