New mental health laws will make it harder to detain autistic people and people with a learning disability in long-stay hospitals, according to the UK Government.

These will be the first major reforms to the Mental Health Act in four decades. The aim is to reduce the number of people being detained under current laws in England and Wales.

Detained without mental health condition

The legislation will see an end to a situation in which autistic people can be detained under the Act even if the patient does not have any mental health conditions.

Under current laws, medics can impose treatment on patients against their wishes.

The draft bill will also allow patients to voice a preference or refuse a specific treatment where a suitable alternative is available.

Jolanta Lasota is chief executive of charity Ambitious about Autism. She highlighted the devastation the autistic community and their families endure because of inappropriate hospital detention.

She said: “It’s a national scandal that autistic people and people with a learning disability remain locked in hospitals inappropriately and shut away from their families and communities.”

More than 2,000 in inpatient units

The latest figures show that 2,005 autistic people and people with a learning disability are currently in inpatient units. This includes 195 children, with more than half (57 per cent) having a total length of stay of more than two years.

Lasota said: “Autism is not a mental health condition, and it is high time that the law reflects this. Sadly, many autistic young people also experience mental health issues due to lack of understanding of their needs.

“While we welcome the Government’s announcement that it will seek to remove autism and learning disabilities as mental health disorders, these reforms are long overdue.”

She added: “The Government must act swiftly to end this shocking situation. However, meaningful change will only come if these reforms are accompanied by investment in early community-based support in education, health and social care.

“The Government’s SEND Review needs to do more to ensure autistic young people get the right support from their earliest years, so they can be themselves and achieve their ambitions.”

The UK Government announced the introduction of the new mental health laws in the 2022 Queen’s Speech on 10 May.


Original Source: Autism Eye