Caring For The Most Vulnerable

28 Jun 2019 | Nicholas Leahy

A loophole which exists in care law in England and Wales has led to concern that autistic adults are at risk of abuse. As was reported in The Times last week, many autistic people are forced to live in unregulated housing which is never inspected by care watchdogs, such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Legal loophole

The regulatory gap exists because if accommodation is supported housing rather than care home provision, then it is not currently regulated by the CQC.

The Times’ report gave an example of an autistic man living in a shared house on the outskirts of London with several other men in their 50’s, each of whom receive care. His daughter has reported several instances where support workers had spent this man’s money on themselves, intimidated him and left him unsupervised in public, which on one occasion led to him suffering sexual abuse in a pub.

Despite concerns being raised by the man’s daughter, the police did not prosecute in respect of the sexual assault and the man’s social worker informed his daughter that he did not have the resources to investigate. As the accommodation is not regulated by the CQC, his daughter had nowhere to go and so was forced to turn to her MP, who raised the case in parliament. It is feared that there are many more people in similar situations without any means of redress.

What can be done?

Last month the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced reviews of the cases of thousands of people with autism and learning disabilities in mental health units in response to a CQC report which found that many of them had been kept in prolonged isolation for extended periods of time. No record exists of the number of people who are living in unregulated accommodation, but it was estimated in 2016 that there are approximately 29,500 housing units for people with mental health issues, of which about 90% are registered social housing, and thus not subject to CQC regulation.

Whilst bringing this accommodation under the remit of the CQC in the form of regulation is one possible solution, some are concerned that this may not in fact be enough. The national director of Healthwatch has commented that “quality services depend on how they are commissioned and whether there is enough funding to make sure the person gets the right type of service that is really tailored around their needs”, and says that in addition to regulation, there must be greater investment by the government in social care.

This is a view which is supported by Tim Nicholls, the policy director at the National Autistic Society. He says that the problem is ultimately a result of a shortage of care provision, and is concerned that for many people with mental health issues, there is simply insufficient funding in place to meet their needs in the community.

It is therefore apparent that the care system as it exists at present is unable to cater for the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in society.

Not only does the government need to act to ensure that unregulated housing is subject to some oversight, but it also needs to consider the problems which are being created by the continued failure to invest adequately in this area.

In the current environment of non-regulation and under-investment, patients are being exposed to avoidable harm which can often have tragic results.

Osbornes Law

At Osbornes we are currently investigating a potential claim involving a 26 year old diabetic man who had autism and was unable to maintain his blood sugars. This was a concern that his parents has raised for several years with various agencies to no avail. He was found deceased at home and a post mortem revealed his glucose level was so low that he had died from hypoglycaemia.

At Osbornes Law we care about how you are treated by medical professionals, whether in the community, at your GP surgery or at hospital and also under the care of private providers of health services. We have many years’ experience of dealing with claims of this nature.

If you think that the care you or a loved one has received fell below the standard expected of a reasonably competent professional, then please do not hesitate to contact Partner and specialist medical negligence lawyer Stephanie Prior on 020 7681 8671, or Nicholas Leahy on 020 8485 8811. You can also fill out an online enquiry form here.

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