RRN responds to Channel 4 Dispatches ‘Locked Away – Our Autism Scandal’

The Restraint Reduction Network (RRN) is deeply saddened by last week’s (24 March 2023) Channel 4 Dispatches documentary showing experiences of autistic people within UK mental health services.

‘Locked Away – Our Autism Scandal’ shared the stories of Lauren, Amy, Danielle and Shaun, when accessing support for mental health crises at a number of hospitals and mental health units around the country.

Instead of receiving suitable support and care in an appropriate environment, their needs were exacerbated and indeed worsened by unsuitable settings. The documentary further describes the overuse of restrictive practices including blanket restrictions, physical restraint and solitary confinement. It also detailed allegations of appalling sexual assaults that had taken place within the hospitals.

The experiences of Lauren, Amy, Danielle and Shaun, once again show the failings of our mental health system to meet the needs of autistic people. Without the appropriate provision and training, hospital stays can lead to a worsening of an existing mental health need and in the worst cases, a failure to safeguard and protect the basic human rights of vulnerable people.

The failings and abuse described in the documentary reinforce what we have heard from many autistic people about their traumatic, painful experiences as inpatients in hospitals. People should be able to trust that when they need support and decide to engage with mental health services, they will be provided suitable, appropriate and therapeutic care. Unfortunately, we know that this is far from reality for too many people.

Jez Harris, RRN Lead Consultant, said: “I now work carrying out reviews of individual cases in these units. These dreadful stories are the tip of a huge iceberg. Many more people are experiencing similar or even worse abuse parading as ‘care’. Sadly, these individuals are either too afraid of retaliation, or are even prevented from accessing the media, to bring their stories forward. Report after report has told us these hospital admissions rarely work and even cause additional trauma. These abuses will continue unless changes are made to commissioning the right support, in the right place, at the right time.”

There is a clear and urgent need for better care and support for autistic people. Mental health services should take a rights-based, therapeutic and person-centred approach. We should not be placing people in hospitals hundreds of miles from home over long periods of time, overusing unacceptable restrictive practices or placing people in toxic cultures where abuse and assault are able to occur. Better preventative care and community-based support is needed to help ensure that people are not admitted to unsuitable settings in the first place and can access support at home or within their own community, near their family members and in a place they feel safe and comfortable.

With better care in the community where practitioners have appropriate training, the experiences of autistic people when they need help can be vastly improved. In instances where someone does require therapeutic care within an inpatient environment, it is essential that hospitals implement approaches such as the Six Core Strategies to reducing restrictive practices and preventing toxic cultures.

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