The Dark Side of Disability Care: ATUs and Abuse – Conservative Article

The Dark Side of Disability Care: ATUs and Abuse – Conservative Article

Only 23,845 people with learning disabilities live in their own home in the UK. This leaves 77,470 people living in institutional and residential care. However, there is a dark side to these secure hospitals and assessment treatment units (ATUs) which needs to be deeply looked into. 

More than 2,300 people with conditions such as autism have been detained in ATUs since 2015. Patients are only supposed to be admitted to these facilities for nine to 18 months. However, the average “sentence” is now five and a half years. 

During the 1970s a number of disability movements led to the closure of long-stay institutions. However, the NHS deemed that a few individuals were not capable of returning to society. So they established “short-term” ATUs.

As a society, we are being brainwashed to believe that in order to control out-of-control patients, we need these ATUs. We do not. These ATUs are doing more harm than good. Once people are released they often have worse behaviour due to their lack of social interaction, as well as the poor treatment they have received.

Patients experience sedation, seclusion, physical restraint, and even having their teeth taken out in order to limit the chance of self-harm or harm to others. Patients are often fed through a small metal hatch in their “cell” and do not get any human contact. In many cases, parents of these patients aren’t even able to see their children and are forced to communicate through the hatch. 

These people are the most vulnerable in society. However, they are being treated worse than most prisoners. At least in prison, you have a set sentence. You know when you will be released.

In 2015 data was collected describing the experience of the people in ATUs. It is a grim reality. In a three month period, 72% of people were controlled by the use of tranquilliser. Over 50% of people had experienced self-harm, physical assault, restraint, or seclusion.

Further investigations that were focused on six patients who were hoping to return home have shown that all six had suffered sexual abuse, five physical abuse and one personal financial abuse. 

Sadly this research probably doesn’t cover half of what occurs behind closed doors. This is because many reports are based on staff recordings. The situations faced by patients are almost definitely underestimated and under-exaggerated.

Massive human right violations are occurring every day yet it is barely getting any attention.

The Winterbourne View abuse scandal encompasses all of these abuses. 11 care workers were charged with 38 charges of either neglect or ill-treatment of people with severe learning difficulties. This all came to light when a Panorama reporter spent five weeks filming the facility undercover. He captured “some of the hospital’s most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased.”

This is still happening today. The issue isn’t the people with disabilities. Yes, certain individuals are difficult to handle due to their conditions, however, there are special carers who are trained in managing this. 

People with learning disabilities aren’t getting worse. The system is. 

There are brilliant alternatives to these hospitals. Specialised care homes and assisted living offer people with disabilities a normal, happy life. Families’ lives have changed thanks to the amazing work of these services. We ought to be investing time and money into this, not into ATUs. Once these individuals leave ATUs and join assisted living programs massive improvement is seen time and time again. 

Let’s not forget these members of society.

Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Eleanor Roberts

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Point of Information

The lack of urgency over the issues of ATUs exposes our society’s ableism – A Labour Response

Eleanor’s article exposes a serious problem. We live in an immensely ableist society. It is designed for only those without disabilities. This neglects and disadvantages 21% of the UK’s population, around 14 million people.

After the Winterbourne View abuse scandal in 2011, it was promised that such a catastrophe would never occur again. From then, there was to be a greater emphasis on personalised and community-based care rather than hospitalisation.

However, 2,100 people remain in “modern-day asylums”. As Eleanor highlighted, the average length of stay is five and a half years, hardly a “short period”. In August 2015, there were 2,600 patients in hospitals, and this has only decreased to 2,100 over the space of five years.

In June of this year alone, there were 3,860 restrictive interventions on inpatients. 620 of which were on children. Restrictive interventions include chemical intervention (sedation), seclusion, and physical restraint.

This is symptomatic of a larger issue in our society: the dehumanisation and neglect of people with disabilities. In this case, those with learning disabilities and/or autism. Consequently, they are condemned to improper and ineffective treatment and confinement away from friends and family.

In these conditions, patients are at greater risk of abuse. The fact that this has been allowed to continue is horrific.

Covid-19 will only exacerbate this problem. Now, the already excruciatingly slow process of reducing the number of patients in hospitals will be reduced even more. It is essential that adequate support is given to patients, their families, and communities in order to prevent further human rights abuses and suffering.

Written by Guest Labour Writer, Zoë Olsen-Groome

Our failing social care system needs an overhaul – A Liberal Response

The issues raised by Eleanor are gravely worrying. The abhorrent treatment of those suffering from mental disabilities within our NHS is the result of underfunding, misguided resource allocation and horrific negligence from central government.

Part of the issue, which Eleanor touched on, is a lack of support for those who do not need to be in the hospital, but simply have nowhere else to go. Like many of the social services offered by the state for those in need – homelessness facilities, domestic abuse assistance, care homes etc – the facilities that those in ATUs could be moved to are overcrowded and underfunded. 

The use of tranquillisers in medicine requires an ethical and practical judgement call by clinicians, and inquiries should be welcomed. There is no debate about the disgracefully rampant crimes and abuses outlined in the reports Ellie has cited.

Sadly, many of the understaffed ATUs probably don’t have the time nor the resources to investigate adequately. Also, with no power of attorney or next of kin, many in ATUs lack any authority to push claims.  

ATUs are a symptom of a failing social care system. There has been a correct push for self-determination for those who live with disabilities. However, this has come at the cost of those who are too ill or lack the resources to be without state-provided or subsidised care. A misunderstanding of mental health, mental illnesses and disabilities, coupled with the years of underfunding, has led to this crisis.

Eleanor is right to call for an overhaul of the system. We should focus on holistic, specialised facilities to improve the lives of those who continue to and will potentially suffer in ATUs.

Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones

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Eleanor Roberts
Head of HR & Recruitment at | Website

I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).

Zoë Olsen-Groome
Junior Labour Writer | Website

I have just graduated with a History degree from the University of Exeter and am about to start my Masters there in Conflict, Security, and Development. I will also be taking on the roles of Welfare Officer in the Politics Society and Vice-President for Coppafeel’s Exeter Uni Boob Team.

Daniel Jones
Junior Liberal Writer | Website

I’m a queer loving feminist liberal, enough to make a hard-line conservative have an aneurism. I have been forced to this position having grown up witnessing and experiencing injustice first-hand. Politics sort of came to me, which it does if you are anything but a cis-white-heterosexual man. My life and the way I wanted to live it was unavoidably political, so I may as well get involved.

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