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New rights for people with mental health conditions

The government has unveiled proposals to strengthen the rights of people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions.

Launched by care minister Norman Lamb, ‘No voice unheard, no right ignored’ includes measures such as the right to challenge decisions about their care, the right to be treated close to their home and family and the right to design and control their care and support.

The proposals, which have been put out to consultation, say: “The default attitude and cultural approach should be that the statutory bodies have to make efforts to do what is in line with people’s wishes and recognise the importance of people being in their own home or community or close to or with their family, if that is their choice, rather than people, supported by their families, having to fight to justify why this matters.”

They would require that local authorities and CCGs provide enough community-based support and treatment services to keep people with autism and learning disabilities out of institutions.

People with such conditions could also have a named professional in charge of sharing information with an individual and their family or carers, including information about their rights to challenge decisions about them and about their care.

Potential changes to the Mental Health Act are also included, specifically in the way it applies to people with learning disabilities and autism.

Other measures in the proposals are:

  • Requiring a care plan, including a plan for discharge, within a number of weeks of admission to hospital.
  • Preventing people from falling through the gaps between services offered by the health system, for example, by making mental health hospitals responsible for patients' physical health as well.
  • Establishing shared funding to help people get out of the hospital system and expanding rights to personal health budgets to more people with learning disabilities or autism.

Lamb said: “Everyone must have access to the right care in the right place, in or close to their community. They must be involved in the decisions affecting them and not ‘prisoners’ of a system, as they so often feel they are.

“That is why I have launched ‘No voice unheard, no right ignored’ to look at what legislative changes are needed to make sure people with learning disabilities, autism and mental health conditions are listened to and treated fairly.”

Responding to the announcement, Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation released a joint statement welcoming the recognition of a “serious imbalance of power” that leads to the voices of individuals and families being ignored.

They said: “We welcome the government’s commitment to address serious legal issues, such as whether autism and learning disability should constitute grounds for section, when neither are a mental illness.

“It is also welcome that the consultation seeks to clarify and strengthen the legal rights of people with a learning disability to challenge admissions and be supported to live independently in their local community.

“However, while this consultation is important, where changes in the law are needed to deliver new rights, this could take years and is not guaranteed.

“And we must remember that on their own, laws are only part of the solution, of making change happen.

“To ensure that the thousands of people with a learning disability and behaviour that challenges who remain trapped in the system of out-dated institutional care like Winterbourne View can return to their communities we must see – alongside the green paper – the development of local support and services and delivery of the closure programme promised by Simon Stevens when he gave evidence to the Public Accounts Select Committee.”

The new proposals follow a critical report that said the government had failed in its pledge to move people with learning disabilities out of hospital and into community care.

The National Audit Office report looked at ministers’ response the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011, where a Panorama investigation exposed shocking abuse that was taking place at a private hospital in south Gloucestershire.

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