Sky News have made the harrowing discovery that at least 40 people with autism or learning disabilities have died in the care of “barbaric” secure hospitals, which the government had promised to close in 2015.

The patients, nine of whom were under 35 at their time of death, were being held in assessment and treatment units (ATUs), short-term assessment and treatment units for people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties. Patients at ATUs with autism or learning disabilities are supposed to be discharged within a period of 18 months, after which they will be released into community-based care.

Sky News’ investigation has discovered that this is not the case, and that the average stay of the 2,315 patients currently in ATUs is more than five and a half years – in one case, Sky News found a patient was living in an ATU 100 miles from his family and had been there for 18 years.

Figures obtained showed that 60% of patients in ATUs had been there for over two years, and 16% had been there for over ten years.

An FOI submitted by the news organisation also found that reported cases of restraint had skyrocketed from 16,600 in 2016 to 28,880 in 2017.

Speaking to Sky News, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’ve been following this since I became health secretary and I think it’s absolutely heartbreaking.”

“There was a target put in place a few years ago to reduce by a third the number of people in secure hospitals in this way and we’re making progress against that target, but I would clearly want to see that go further and it’s something we’re actively working on.

“The numbers are coming down, which is good, but clearly there’s more that needs to be done.

“We announced this week a £2bn increase in the budget for mental health services – that’s part of the answer but by no means the whole answer.”

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Image: Flickr/Public Health Museum
Source: Sky News

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