Campaign To End Use Of ATUs To Detain People With Learning Disabilities

Initiative Marks First Anniversary Of Revelations Of Suspected Abuse At Whorlton Hall Assessment And Treatment Unit

A campaign is being launched calling on the government to honour its pledge of ending the use of hospitals to detain people with learning disabilities and autistic people.

Prominent figures across England are coming together for the week-long campaign being held to mark the first anniversary of a TV documentary depicting alleged abuse at Whorlton Hall near Barnard Castle, County Durham. 

Undercover filming by BBC Panorama appeared to show patients with learning disabilities being mistreated. 

The #right2home campaign starts on Monday and will see learning disability campaigners, parents and lawyers take to social media to lobby for more to be done to move people out of mental health hospitals, also known as assessment and treatment units (ATUs).

Kirsty Stuart, a public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office, has represented families whose loved ones have been detained in ATUs, including Whorlton Hall. 

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“The impact of the Panorama programme was significant and followed from a previous programme exposing significant episodes of abuse at Winterbourne View near Bristol nine years before

“Following the exposure of Winterbourne View, NHS England developed the Transforming Care programme to improve the quality of life and care for those with a learning disability and/or autistic people and to increase community capacity, meaning that more people were able to be moved out of ATUs and into more suitable community placements and their own homes.

“Yet still today, more than 2,000 adults and children with learning disabilities and or autistic people are detained in secure mental health units, and are denied the right to a home and a family life that keeps them well.

“Campaigners believe that government promises to move people into their own homes are still being broken. We hope that this latest campaign will keep this issue on the political agenda, and press the government to act on its promises.” Kirsty Stuart – Solicitor

Picking up from earlier campaigns, #right2home is organised by Self-advocacy Together, a coalition of organisations co-led by people with learning disabilities, Irwin Mitchell solicitors as well as parent-campaigners from Rightful Lives, Stripped of Human Rights, #HomesNotHospitals and #HumanToo.

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The week of campaigning will culminate on 22 May – the anniversary of the first broadcast of the BBC Panorama programme regarding Whorlton Hall. It will include a scheduled video call meeting between campaigners and NHS England to discuss its proposals for change and to seek assurances that the Transforming Care initiative continues to have the highest priority. 

Leo Andrade, a parent and campaigner for Stripped of Human Rights based in London, said: “As the mum of an autistic person who spent many years in two different ATUs, my son has the right to live in his own home just like anyone else. Although he has always had a home, my home, he was denied that right for many years, but at the end of the day he’s family, and he deserves a normal family life like any other person.”

Isabelle Garnett, a parent campaigner for #HomesNotHospitals and #HumanToo based in London said “The current pandemic means that there is an even greater risk of people being locked up in these units, and of this having an adverse effect on their mental health. As well as the risk of more people going into secure care, there is also a risk of delays in people being discharged from ATUs, with some moves being stopped completely until lockdown is over. 

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“Everyone is being asked to stay at home, but these fellow citizens can’t be at home. They can feel even more cut off than ever from family and friends. Now that he has the right support in the community, my son is safe, happy and learning valuable skills for life.” 

Jodie Williams, a self-advocate with Sunderland People First, which supports and provides services for people with learning disabilities, added “Hospitals are not homes. All we want is to live the life we want and be treated equally and have the same rights. We are human too.”

Whorlton Hall was an independent hospital in County Durham which housed up to 22 men and women aged 18 and over with a learning disability and complex needs. 

It closed following the Panorama programme which aired on 22 May, 2019. 

Following an inspection in 2015, the Care Quality Commission found the hospital “required improvement”. The watchdog raised a number of concerns, including inadequate staffing levels, a lack of training and a failure to follow patients’ care plans.

The campaign can be followed online at on twitter @right2homeUK and on Facebook at

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