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In brief: Care failings leading to deaths in young people with autism


An image of a pile of patient files
Alexander Gray | Unsplash

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

Young people with autism dying due to serious care failings, despite warnings


Research from the BBC has found that dozens of young people with autism have died over the past decade due to care failings, despite coroners providing repeated warnings.


The BBC conducted research into more than 4,000 Prevention of Future Death (PFD) notices issued in England and Wales over the past decade to identify autism-related deaths.


Coroners issue PFD notices at inquests when there's a belief that future deaths may occur unless authorities take action. However, there's no legal requirement for authorities to act on these notices, making oversight and assessment of action taken difficult.


The study found 51 cases where PFD notices highlighted severe care failings for individuals with autism, with a majority of them under 30-years-old and nearly a third being children.


Causes of death varied, but approximately half were linked to mental health or suicide.


Coroners repeatedly raised five main concerns:

  • A lack of trained staff with an understanding of autism

  • Failure to treat autism and mental health separately

  • Insufficient specialised accommodation

  • Lack of health professionals to coordinate care

  • Late autism diagnoses

Head of the all-party parliamentary group on autism, Sir Robert, said: “Lessons are not being learned. Fifty-one deaths is a lot. It suggests a systemic problem."




Cost of mental health treatment could be reduced through faster treatment


A study investigating the potential benefits of reducing treatment and waiting times for mental health conditions from twelve months to three months has found that such a reduction could alleviate the financial burden on the NHS, enhance treatment outcomes, and ultimately improve the quality of life for millions of individuals in the UK.


One of the critical findings indicates that this change could lead to substantial annual savings – potentially around £600 million – by helping the estimated 7.1 million people who currently need but do not access NHS Talking Therapies, an effective and confidential treatment for common mental health problems like anxiety and depression.


Employing health-economic modelling and real-world mental health systems data, the report assesses the cost-effectiveness of different interventions, highlighting the primary factors influencing healthcare costs related to waiting and treatment durations, as well as treatment effectiveness.




ADHD linked to greater risk of multiple common and serious mental health illnesses


New research suggests that ADHD is an independent risk factor for several significant mental health issues.


The study highlights associations between ADHD and major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anorexia nervosa, and suicide attempts.


Researchers used Mendelian randomisation – a technique employing genetic variants as proxies for ADHD – to establish genetic evidence supporting these outcomes.


While the study did not find causal links between ADHD and bipolar disorder, anxiety, or schizophrenia, it did reveal a heightened risk of anorexia nervosa and established ADHD as both a cause and consequence of major clinical depression.


Additionally, after accounting for major depression's influence, a direct causal association was identified between ADHD, suicide attempts and PTSD.


The researchers said: “This study opens new insights into the paths between psychiatric disorders. Thus, in clinical practice, patients with ADHD should be monitored for the psychiatric disorders included in this study and preventive measures should be initiated if necessary”




Death of transgender teen prompts call for mental health review


A coroner is planning to call for a review of the way mental health referrals are made by schools after the tragic death of a transgender teenager, Alex Dews, aged 13.


The teenager passed away in July 2022, four days after being found seriously injured in a park.


It was revealed during an inquest that Alex had repeatedly expressed suicidal thoughts to school staff.


Despite this, the school did not refer him to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) because of concerns that he might be removed from the waiting list as he had been receiving iSpace support.


The coroner noted that Alex began iSpace counselling and, at his second session, disclosed that he had attempted an overdose, alongside telling the deputy safeguarding lead at the school that he wanted to end his life.


Although a handover and further engagement were recommended when the therapy sessions ended in May 2022, there was no detail or follow-up.


While Ms Combes said she was "satisfied that there are processes in place... there are absolutely identifiable individual failures of following those processes [though] these are not sufficient to amount to systemic failure."


She said she would be writing a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report regarding her concerns over the way referrals are made to CAMHS, especially the fact that the school was left to make crucial decisions about which services to refer Alex to.




Research highlights mental health issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community


A recent study conducted by University College London (UCL) examined the link between sexual orientation and suicidal thoughts and behaviours using data from over 10,000 participants.


The results found all individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-harm, which involves intentionally hurting oneself without attempting suicide, and many were more likely to report experiencing thoughts of suicide in the past year compared with heterosexual individuals.


Bullying also emerged as a significant contributing factor to the higher prevalence of suicidal thoughts among lesbian and gay individuals.


Fortunately, the study did not find that sexual minority groups had a higher likelihood of attempting suicide compared to heterosexual individuals.




School sees behaviour transformation success using a compassionate approach


The head of Beacon Hill Academy in Sedgley, Dudley, featured in a BBC documentary, has highlighted the positive impact of adopting a "compassionate" approach to behaviour management in the school.


The school had previously reduced exclusions from 400 a year to just "single figures" by implementing new behaviour strategies.


BBC Two's documentary series, "Helping Our Teens," brought behaviour expert Marie Gentles to the school to address concerns related to rising child mental health issues and declining behaviour standards.


During the programme, Gentles worked closely with staff, parents, and students to introduce an approach that prioritised meeting individual needs and fostering a more compassionate environment within the school.


"It’s not about allowing young people to get away with behaviour or... they never have a consequence, it’s about understanding why the behaviour has occurred and what the needs are that have manifested into this undesirable behaviour," commented Gentles.


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