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Why are People with Learning Disabilities Still Under Lock and Key?
We were very upset when we watched the Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Under Lock and Key.
It showed people with learning disabilities and autism who had been locked away in a mental health hospital called St Andrew’s Hospital.
It showed how in this large, unfriendly institution, people’s mental health deteriorated and they began displaying what the professionals call “challenging behaviour” such as freezing or lashing out.
To us, “challenging behaviour” usually means that someone is trying to communicate.
They might be scared or confused or overwhelmed by the environment.
But the programme showed that at St. Andrews (and in other large hospitals), the staff did not try and understand what people’s behaviour meant.
Instead, the put the people in seclusion, restrained them, and gave them powerful drugs to keep them under control.
After visiting someone at St. Andrew’s, Norman Lamb MP said: “It was almost akin to treating her like an animal. It was one of the most shocking things I’ve seen.”
We think this is a horrible way to treat people. Of course it makes people’s behaviour and mental health much worse.
We have known for a long time that big hospitals are the wrong place for people with learning disabilities and autism.
The noise, the busyness, and the high turnover of staff make people very distressed.
The strict timetable means that care cannot be person centred.
The father of one of the people on the programme said: “It feels like he is being punished for being autistic, because he cannot respond to the system they have. He is not capable of doing so.”
This is why the big institutions of the past were closed.
So why are we sending people back to these places?
If they need extra support, people with learning disabilities and autism should be supported by small specialist care homes in the community.
The staff can get to know people well and make sure that their support is person-centred – this means that it is right for them.
People living in big hospitals like St. Andrew’s can live a much better life somewhere else.
We know this, and we know what good care looks like.
But people are stuck in hospital because there are not enough placements in the community.
We think this is wrong.
We think that if the government know what good care for people looks like, they should make sure this care happens. Because people with learning disabilities deserve to have a life like everyone else.
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