The use of restraints in hospitals on adults with learning difficulties has jumped by nearly 50 per cent in a year, according to figures from NHS Digital.
An investigation by the Radio 4 current affairs programme File On 4, found that in 2017, restraints were used more than 22,000 times compared to 15,000 times in 2016.
The investigation also revealed that the use of dangerous face-down restraints has jumped from 2,200 to 3,100 during the same period. This is despite the government’s introduction of a two year strategy to end the use of face-down restraints, which began in April 2014.
In a statement in April 2014, the Department for Health and Social Care noted: “restrictive interventions were being used for too long, often not as a last resort and even to inflict pain, humiliate or punish.”
Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb, said: “This new guidance will stop inappropriate use of all types of restraint, reduce this outdated practice and help staff to keep patients safe.”
The guidance followed a government serious case review into Winterbourne Hospital near Bristol in 2012.
The review found criminal abuse of patients with learning disabilities by staff and over 500 reported incidents of restraint across a 15 month period.
The Human Rights Act and People with Learning Disabilities
Image via Pixabay
In the UK, all public authorities – including NHS organisations – have a duty to respect and promote peoples’ rights.
This means that all NHS patients should be treated in accordance with key human rights principles such as dignity, equality, respect and autonomy.
The articles of the Human Rights Convention which are relevant to healthcare include the right to life (Article 2), the right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way (Article 3) and the right not to be discriminated against (Article 14).
However, the rise in the use of restraints suggests that the rights of people with learning disabilities are not being respected in some parts of the NHS.
“One of the Biggest Human Rights Issues of our Time”
Image: NHS Conference/flickr.com
Dan Scorer, the head of policy and public affairs at Mencap, a charity supporting people with learning disabilities, told the Guardian: “The treatment of people with learning disabilities within these inpatient units is one of the biggest domestic human rights issues of our time.
“These horrific revelations reinforce the fact that the government and NHS England must urgently do a detailed analysis about where this is happening, and why the use of restraints has increased so dramatically in recent years.”
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, the minister who introduced guidelines to reduce the use of force in hospitals in 2014, told the BBC that the continued use of face-down restraint was “shameful.”
“The bottom line is that I had wanted to see and expected to see a substantial decline in the use of restraint and that hasn’t happened.
“I think that’s really shameful when we know that it’s possible in very many cases to avoid the use of restraint at all through a more sophisticated approach to people in inpatient settings.”