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PEOPLE with learning disabilities are having to put up with Bedlam-like conditions in institutions that should have been shut down years ago, shadow health minister Barbara Keeley said today.
The current situation was “nothing short of a national scandal” with patients being treated in a way that has “no place in the 21st century,” while private operators of the institutions profit and squirrel millions of pounds in offshore tax havens, she added.
She made the demand after reports emerged last month that an autistic teenager called Bethany was locked for almost two years in solitary confinement and fed through a hatch, which reignited calls for immediate closure of such institutions.
The news led Sir Stephen Bubb to claim the government had “ignored” his independent report into the 2011 abuse scandal at Winterbourne View, which recommended a dramatic reduction in the use of institutions for people with learning disabilities.
Asking an urgent question on the issue in the Commons seven years after the original scandal, Ms Keeley called for immediate action to “rid the country” of these institutions.
She said: “Can the minister tell us why the NHS is still sanctioning the use of settings which expose thousands of vulnerable people to abuse at a cost of half a billion pounds despite the government pledging to close them?
“The Times has revealed that the private companies running these units are making millions out of detaining vulnerable people in unsafe facilities, in one case funnelling £25 million into a secret bank account in Belize.
“Can the minister tell us what the government is doing to put an immediate stop to private companies who have a vested interest in keeping people with learning disabilities in these Bedlam-like conditions?”
Health Minister Caroline Dinenage agreed the government had a duty to act and has launched a review into seclusion, which is expected to conclude at the end of next year.
She said: “I share very strongly her views that there is still much further to go and now is the time to take action.
“The first stage of the review will focus on settings that most closely relate to Bethany’s circumstances ... This will start immediately and will report in May of next year.
“The second stage will report in the winter and will examine other settings in which segregation and prolonged seclusion are used.”
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