Specialist Lawyers Claim Lack Of Services Breaches Human Rights of Vulnerable Adults
A 21-year old girl with learning difficulties and autism has instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to seek permission for a Judicial Review of the Welsh Government’s alleged failure to provide sufficient secure placements for patients with mental health problems in the country.
Claire Dyer has learning difficulties and autism and because of her condition she sometimes displays challenging behaviour when feeling stressed or threatened. Last year she was detained under the Mental Health Act but there was no suitable placement available in Wales so the health board responsible for her care moved her to a hospital facility in Brighton for three months, some 230 miles away from home.
It was only after a petition was signed calling for her return home by over 95,000 people that Claire was finally moved back to her family in Swansea.
Since her move back home she is receiving a care package in the community but the family are concerned in case the situation arises again that Claire needs a secure placement, and wants assurances that other families will be able to receive the help they need in future.
The move to Brighton was sanctioned by the NHS Wales Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board because it said there was no suitable alternative placements in the whole of Wales – something both the family and specialists lawyers at Irwin Mitchell representing Claire and her family say is unacceptable.
The expert Public Law team at Irwin Mitchell have asked on several occasions for information on the demand for low/medium security placements for people with learning difficulties, autism and challenging behaviour. However the Welsh health authorities do not appear to have basic information such as how many women in Wales may require these facilities, how many are presently placed outside Wales or the cost of these placements.
In England, the Department of Health’s response to Winterbourne View Hospital highlighted the need for services to be ‘provided locally where possible’ and that ‘sending people out of area into hospital or large residential settings can cause real harm to individuals by weakening relationships with family and friends and taking them away from familiar places and community’.
Lawyers now say they have been left with no choice but to seek a Judicial Review to force the authorities to ensure they are providing the appropriate number of beds, and that the absence of doing so has breached Claire’s human rights to remain in her own community.
The Judicial Review is being sought against the Welsh Ministers and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Local Health Board as they both have a role to play in ensuring the provision of services is appropriate. Statements in support of the Claim have been filed by Mencap Cymru and Learning Disability Wales, an umbrella body of some 90 third sector organisations active in the field of learning disability.
Alex Rook, an expert lawyer at Irwin Mitchell leading the case, said:
Expert Opinion“How can the welsh Government and local health boards know if they are meeting the needs of vulnerable people in this situation when it doesn’t know what the scale of the need and demand for these services is? They simply aren’t collecting this data which they could use to ensure they have the resources to meet the needs of vulnerable people and we have been told that there is literally nowhere that Claire can go in all of Wales.
“There is a monetary cost to the NHS of having to send someone to Brighton or elsewhere in England, but there is also the personal cost to that individual and their family who are forced to have to travel up to 500 miles for a round trip just to see their loved ones. As has been repeatedly recognised, this can lead to increase distress and challenging behaviour, leading to a vicious circle for young adults like Claire.” Alex Rook - Partner
Claire’s mother, Cath Dyer from Swansea, said: “It is clear that people like Claire need specialist support but we were staggered to find that there was no specialist place at all for her in Wales. We were totally against Claire being sent hundreds of miles away to Brighton, which we didn’t think was suitable for her needs and because of how far away it was from her family.
“People with autism need a certain level of stability in their lives and moving Claire out of Wales and so far away from her family had a devastating effect upon her and all the family, including her brother and sister.
“Seeing my daughter having to be shifted around the UK because there is no real solution in Wales is simply not acceptable. It’s heart-breaking and seems as though the authorities aren’t taking the issue seriously enough. We hope the courts will review the situation and force the authorities to take action to ensure they understand the demands of people with mental health issues.”
Mr Jim Crowe, Director at Learning Disability Wales, said “Learning Disability Wales has been very active in promoting the theme of ‘No Winterbourne in Wales’, challenging institutional placements made ‘out of county’ or ‘out of country’ for people with a learning disability. The absence of robust data makes it difficult to identify the number of people with a learning disability in Wales who may be in a situation similar to Claire. However, Learning Disability Wales is aware that a significant number of people with a learning disability are being placed out of county and out of country.’
Alex Rook of Irwin Mitchell added:
Expert Opinion“Claire and her family feel very strongly that more could and should be done to provide people like Claire with a real, long-term solution in Wales so that they can get the support they need in an environment that is appropriate for their needs.” Alex Rook - Partner
Wayne Crocker, from Mencap Cymru said: “Mencap Cymru has been supporting Claire and her family for many years in challenging the decisions made about her support and care. I would encourage families in similar situations to contact the Wales Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 as it is important that people get the right help, and even more importantly that we build up evidence that people are being let down in Wales and not getting the services to which they are entitled close to home.”
Ian Wise QC and Steve Broach of Monckton Chambers are instructed by Irwin Mitchell as counsel for the claimants.
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