Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has said he is considering calls to shut down all institutions for people with learning difficulties and autism.
The recommendation was made by Sir Stephen Bubb, the author of the review into the ill-treatment of people with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View care home in 2011.
A number of staff were jailed after the failings were uncovered.
Writing in The Times, Sir Stephen said that people in such institutions, known as ATUs, are ‘being subjected to degrading and inhumane treatment’, and called for them to be closed and residents moved to care within the community.
Asked whether he was ready to consider the closure of all institutions as part of a review currently under way into the future of the care system, Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Yes. I want to look very carefully at what Sir Stephen has said.”
He said he wanted to go ‘much further’ than the current target of reducing the number of people in these secure institutions by a third.
Sir Stephen said that his recommendations following the exposure of ill-treatments and neglect at Winterbourne View had been ‘ignored’.
He wrote: “The conditions are too often disgraceful. There has been a significant increase in the use of physical restraint, including the barbaric practice of prone restraint.
“Many individuals are held in seclusion for months and sometimes years, and are usually overmedicated. It is almost certain that many of these conditions amount to abuse and an unlawful breach of human rights. Yet such practices are tolerated.”
The Health Secretary said he is considering closing all private and NHS facilities (PA Images)
Mr Hancock echoed Sir Stephen’s sentiment that people in secure hospitals could be better looked after in the community.
He said: “I’ve been really struck by the concerns and problems around this area since I became Health Secretary.
“We spend almost half a billion pounds a year on looking after these people. I’m absolutely certain that this can be done far better.
“The Government has got a target which I inherited to reduce by a third the number of people in secure hospitals who are locked up. I absolutely want to hit that, but I want to go much further.
“It’s really affected me, seeing some of these cases, and I’m absolutely going to get to the bottom of it.”
Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “More and more autistic people are stuck, in inappropriate Assessment and Treatment Units miles away from their friends and family – and being subject to traumatic and unnecessary seclusion, restraint and over-medication.
“NHS England promised to address this scandal in 2015, by moving people into specialist support in their own communities. But the number of autistic people living in these units has actually increased by almost 40% in this period. Their families too often feel powerless to challenge people making decisions about their care, even if it’s clear that their sons and daughters are becoming increasingly distressed and traumatised. This is unacceptable.
“We have written to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to encourage him to visit one of these units unannounced. He needs to see first-hand the reality of the care being offered to some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
A number of care staff were jailed after undercover filming by BBC Panorama exposed neglect of residents at the Winterbourne View home in Gloucestershire in 2011.
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