People with autism and learning disabilities 'locked up' in hospitals, campaigners say

  • Video report from ITV Wales' Health Reporter, Katie Fenton

People with learning disabilities are being "locked up" in hospitals instead of being supported in their communities, according to a campaign group.

Campaigners say a shortage of appropriate housing and support for people with autism and learning disabilities means some are being separated from their families.

The Stolen Lives group launched a 'Homes Not Hospitals' petition outside the Senedd on Wednesday, 17 April, and say people with disabilities "had always been a forgotten group".

The Welsh Government denies people are being held "inappropriately".

140 people with a learning disability are being treated in specialised inpatient services in Wales and England, according to the Welsh Government.

The parents of an autistic man who was sectioned while in independent living accommodation have told ITV Wales he has been left traumatised by the experience.

Janis and Matthew Griffiths' son William was sectioned in 2019. They were eventually able to bring him home, but they are campaigning to try and stop this from happening to anyone else with similar needs.

Janis said when William gets the right care there are very few issues and he is able to go abroad and enjoy socialising.

She said: "He's lovely. When he meets you he'll want to know about you.

"He'll ask you about your birthday, your children, your pets and all the rest of it.

"Then, 10 years later when you see him again he'll ask: 'How's your dog?'

"He'll still remember those details about you. He's fascinating from that point of view. He's very easy, he's not much of a problem at all."

Janis told ITV Wales when William gets the right care there are very few issues. Credit: Family photo

Janis says she can't undo the trauma of what William went through when he was sectioned, but she wants somebody to pay attention to how people are treated.

William's dad Matthew said: "It was deeply traumatic for all those involved. He still exhibits symptoms of PTSD.

"This is an enduring trauma that doesn't just stop when he goes into appropriate care. No matter how well he's cared for now, and he is well looked after, our trauma survives and is not entirely buried."

Describing what William's experience in the mental health unit was like, Janis said: "He was frozen. He wouldn't move. He was like a scared rabbit.

"We would take him out and he would still keep saying 'why have they done this to me? Why can't I go back? What have I done wrong?'

"He was just awful and we took him out and he would tell us stories. Obviously you have to believe what he says with care but I believe some of what he says was true.

"They were dreadful circumstances."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We take the care of vulnerable people very seriously and are committed to reducing the number of people with a learning disability who are housed in a hospital setting.

“We do not agree that people are being systematically detained inappropriately in mental health units.

“When people with a learning disability are occasionally admitted to a mental health unit, it is vitally important they receive care appropriate to meet their individual needs.

"This means that they must have a care plan, which is reviewed regularly and discharge planning and options around future accommodation needs are fully considered.

“Health boards and local authorities continue to work to ensure sufficient, suitable and appropriate accommodation is provided in local communities to facilitate step-down provision for those leaving inpatient accommodation.”

Speaking in the Senedd, Mark Isherwood, Conservative MS for North Wales and chair of the Senedd cross-party groups on autism and disability, said: "There has been a learning disability strategy in place in Wales since 2018, which seeks to ensure that autistic people or people with a learning disability who are in long-term placements are discharged and able to live their lives in the community.

"However, Learning Disability Wales states that ‘approximately 150 autistic people or people with a learning disability are known to be in a hospital setting, over two thirds for over 10 years’, although numbers don't include all people and all settings.

"We therefore need to know why such a high number are still in long-term hospital placements. I call for a statement accordingly.”

Jane Hutt MS said: "Certainly, that will be taken back, acknowledged and taken forward in terms of a response to the event."

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