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Putting Care Back in the Community

When I was a Health Minister, one of my most important goals was to improve the lives of people with learning disabilities and autism whose behaviours may challenge. 

These people have a right to lead their life like anyone else. They have a right to live as part of their own community - to have a social life, opportunities to work where possible, and to be treated with the same dignity and respect that other people would expect. 

But we know that this is not always the reality. Too many people end up being admitted to hospital - where they often stay for months, even years. And too many people get treated dreadfully in these places, like second class citizens. 

I vividly remember meeting Fauzia, a young woman with autism who I visited at a large hospital in Northampton. She was regularly restrained, and was also put into seclusion in a room which was more like a prison cell. It was one of the most horrifying things I have witnessed. And the real scandal is that this happens to thousands of people across the country. 

Determined to fight this injustice and ensure better lives, we set a new ambition of getting people out of hospitals and supporting them in the community. We also proposed giving individuals and their family the legal power to challenge decisions about how and where they are cared for, and more control over how the money available for their care is spent. 

But progress has been horribly slow. Thousands of people are still stuck in big institutions. The new legal rights I proposed have not yet been introduced. And many people still do not enjoy the personal budgets they should be entitled to. 

There is a moral duty to invest more in community care so that people like Fauzia can live full and fulfilling lives. Since she left the hospital, she is flourishing and has not been restrained once. But so far, the Government has failed to do this. My fear now is that politicians are spending too much time thinking about Brexit and not enough time making sure that everyone with illness or disability - including a learning disability - gets the care they deserve. 

But thanks to recent media interest, people are talking about learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. People all over the country have been contacting me to share heart-breaking stories about the shocking treatment of their loved ones. So now is the time to act. We have to seize the moment and bring an end to this injustice.

Norman Lamb

Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for North Norfolk and former Health Minister

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