Use of restraints on learning disability patients up at Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust in lockdown

Use of restrictive interventions against learning disability patients increased during lockdown at the Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust, new figures show.
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NHS Digital figures reveal trust staff used restrictive interventions on patients 105 times between April and June, that was up from 40 during the same period last year.

The trust says many high-risk patients struggled with rules and routine changes due to Covid, which ‘understandably caused intense distress to them’, leading to a need for extra interventions.

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The most common kind of intervention was physical restraint by staff, with 80 cases.

Dan ScorerDan Scorer
Dan Scorer

Across England, hospitals reported using restrictive interventions 12,710 times between April and June, up by almost a quarter on 2019.

The biggest increase was in the use of sedation, which more than doubled from 635 cases in 2019 to 1,380 this year.

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That was followed by physical restraint, which rose by 29 per cent to 10,015 cases, and seclusion, which increased from 760 cases to 965, a rise of 27 per cent

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Charity Mencap said it was ‘deeply shocking’ to see an increase in restrictive interventions during the pandemic, but warned the figures are ‘only the tip of the iceberg’, as many hospitals fail to submit data.

It has called for NHS England and the Government to deliver on a 2015 pledge to close learning disability hospital beds and move patients into homes in the community

Talking about the national picture, Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at the charity, said: “With family contact cut during lockdown, there is huge concern about who is making sure some of the most vulnerable people in society are being kept safe and well during the pandemic.

“Families are also terrified about the treatment of their loved ones behind closed doors after reports of human rights abuses and deaths in these institutions.

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“We know people are at increased risk of abuse and neglect in these settings and the data shows horrifying levels of physical restraint, which can lead to injuries and even broken bones

“We’ve also heard of people being left in isolation for months on end and being given cocktails of anti-psychotic medication that leaves people drugged and unable to communicate.”

Across England, 3,235 patients were in hospital at the end of June, although that was down from 3,570 last year.

Almost 4,000 patients were admitted to hospital during the three months at the height of lockdown. This was also down on 2019, when there were more than 6,300.

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Mr Scorer called for the NHS to take urgent action to protect those still in hospital during the pandemic, while inspections by the CQC regulator are reduced.

He said: “People deserve to live in homes not hospitals.

“Ultimately, the Government, NHS England and local authorities must develop the right support and housing in the community that people desperately need to stop admissions and to get people out of inpatient units."

The NHS was approached for comment.

Between April and June, Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust recorded:

80 uses of physical restraint; five instances of chemical restraint, where drugs are used to subdue a patient; and five uses of seclusion, which Mencap likens to solitary confinement.

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A trust spokesman said: “The Covid-19 restrictions introduced in March had a big impact on everyone, particularly the people living with a learning disability or autism that we care for.

“The changes in rules, routines, and perceived safety understandably caused intense distress to them.

“Unfortunately this also meant that during the first two months of lockdown we saw a rise in high-risk behaviour.

“Restraining someone is something that we do not take lightly and it is always our last resort.

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“The restraints that we use are to designed to keep the person, staff and everyone else safe, are carried out by trained staff and are clinically approved.

“As the initial lockdown measures have been eased we were pleased to see a subsequent drop in high-risk behaviour and associated restraint.

“As an organisation we are committed to reducing restrictive practice and providing the very best care to our service users.”


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