A comment from LDN London’s CEO Gabby Machell about assessment and treatment units

BY: Ciaran Willis

CATEGORY: Blog, News

Last week LDN London held an event called ‘Spotlight On’: Abuse of people with learning disabilities. The four fantastic speakers were Alexis Quinn, Sara Ryan, George Julian and Amanda Topps.

One of the areas the talks focussed on was assessment and treatment units, where many people with learning disabilities have experienced abuse, poor conditions, restraint and are separated from their family and friends.

Our CEO Gabby Machell said a few words at the event:

Comment from Gabby Machell

“It’s not easy to talk about abuse, which is why we need to. We know that there are no easy solutions. But, things need to change.

Supporting people to live in their community often takes many people working together, with the right resources and the mindset to make things happen.

Key to getting it right is to see and hear the person and their families. I know this sounds obvious, but it is a simple truth.  Without this, people with learning disabilities are denied the right care and support that is created for them, and not in spite of them.

We need real partnerships, with families, other charities and organisations, and medical professionals. These must be based on transparency and honesty, and we must have the chance to challenge them as a cornerstone and have this embedded in practice.

Being able to challenge when things aren’t right must not come with the all too familiar response of this is ‘a difficult family’ or we know best.

People with learning disabilities must have their human rights protected. They should be able to live near to their family and friends, at home or close to home, and make as many choices as possible about their lives. These are things we all value.

LDN London, supports lots of people who without the right help could be placed in assessment and treatment units, isolated and in many ways forgotten, without the chance to live a good or fulfilling life.

There are so many stories of people’s lives changing for the better when they are simply given a chance and treated well – like a human being.

At our Community Hub, we support extremely vulnerable people with learning disabilities to be active and properly included in their communities.We help people live good lives in the way they want.

Other charities have led great campaigns and have been shining a light on this issue for years. Yet, much still needs to be done. We need to continue to expose the abuse of people with learning disabilities and keep this whole issue as a national conversation until we see lasting change.”

What is an assessment and treatment unit?

An Assessment and Treatment Unit (ATU) is a place where people experiencing challenges, mental health problems or crisis are meant to be assessed and treated for a limited period of time. It is an ‘inpatient unit’, meaning that people stay there, rather than at home. ATUs can be run by the NHS, the not-for-profit sector or private providers.

What is the problem?

Over 2000 people with learning disabilities are stuck in assessment and treatment units, with many of them far from their home and family.

ATUs are often used to hold people with learning disabilities and autistic people because there is not the right support or housing near to their home. This is wrong. Often people are held for years, and it has a terrible impact on them.

What is being done?

Despite many scandals and cases of abuse against people with learning disabilities, not enough is being done to get people out of hospitals / ATUs.

Since 2015 the government and NHS have invested in a ‘Transforming Care’ programme, promising to reduce the number of people in ATUs by 50% by 2024. They have continually missed their targets. In some areas, the number of people in ATUs is increasing.

Is there a better way?

Evidence shows that people who leave ATUs can live happy, fulfilling lives when they have personal support built around them. This is best provided by skilled, small local organisations, who use local community networks to help the person.

Too often people are placed in ‘specialist’ services run by large providers, which do not treat them as individuals.



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