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Hospital patients with learning disabilities developed diabetes after being fed treats and lack of e

Vulnerable patients who have been detained in hospitals for years developed diabetes due to a lack of exercise and an over-reliance on treats, a national NHS review has warned.

NHS England looked into the care of almost 2,000 patients with learning disabilities and autism and found that the physical health of many had significantly declined during their stays because of poor care.

Its review, which was prompted by the deaths of three patients in 2021 at a private hospital in Norwich called Cawston Park, found some patients were placed in psychiatric intensive care units because “there was nowhere else to go”.

It found that patients had experienced “significant weight gain” after they were admitted to hospital and in some cases, this had led to them developing diabetes.

One of the reasons given for the weight gain was a lack of physical activity, often because a lack of staff meant they had limited access to fresh air and the outdoors.

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There was also an “over-reliance on ‘treats’” including snacks from vending machines, takeaways and a lack of means and ability for them to choose and prepare their own food.

Antipsychotics can also cause weight gain and the review found that some patients had been inappropriately prescribed antipsychotics and benzodiazepines to manage their behaviour, without any “clear rationale” for it.

The report found that more than half of the patients were in out-of-area placements, meaning they were in hospitals hundreds of miles away from home. And just 59 per cent of patients specifically needed to be in the hospital.

Patients can be admitted to hospitals on a long-term basis, and according to NHS data, some patients covered in the review had been in the units for more than a decade.

More than two-fifths could have been treated outside of the hospital but almost 20 per cent could not be discharged into the community as there were no options available.

The review found families were excluded from decisions about the care of their loved ones in the hospital. Shortages in staffing were also a major theme within the review with “heavy” reliance on agency staff.

The news comes after an expose by The Independent revealed that vulnerable people in mental health and learning disability units were dying because their basic physical healthcare needs were not being met.

Following the Winterbourne View scandal in 2011, which saw horrific abuse of patients at a private hospital, the government and NHS pledged to end the use of inpatient units for those with learning disability needs.

However, more than 10 years on, thousands are still stuck inside the units, a large proportion of which are run by private companies.

A statutory public inquiry is currently being held into abuse at Mukamore Abbey hospital, in Northern Ireland, which cares for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs.

In its conclusion to its review report, NHS England said it would work with its partners to address the challenges highlighted in the next 12 months.