Man Has No Contact With Anyone And Has Meals Slid Through Gap In Wooden Opening At Privately Run Unit
A mum fighting to free her autistic son, who has been detained behind a hatch for more than four years in a mental health hospital, has instructed specialist lawyers to investigate.
Patient A, whose name is not being disclosed to protect his privacy, lives in a room at Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal in Cheshire. He has no physical contact with anybody and his meals are slid through a gap in the bottom of a wooden hatch.
Lawyers investigate man's care in Cheadle Royal mental health hospital
The 24-year-old’s mum, Nicola Cassidy, has now instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the care her son is receiving at the privately-run hospital – also known as an assessment and treatment unit (ATU).
Patient A, who also has a learning disability and Tourette’s syndrome, has been detained under the Mental Health Act since September 2017. He is looked after by staff at a ratio of five to one and monitored by CCTV. When his room needs cleaning he is shut in a separate area, such as an area of garden which is closed off by high metal fencing.
Nicola, 49, from, Walton, Liverpool, says “people wouldn’t treat an animal” like they do her son and his care is “worse than being in prison.”
Mum wants her son to be cared for in the community
Instead of outsourcing Patient A’s care to The Priory, she wants Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and Liverpool City Council to help work towards providing a community placement which she says, with the right support, will help her son to flourish and spend more time with his family.
A decade on from the Winterbourne View scandal – in which serious abuse of patients with learning disabilities in a private hospital was uncovered – Nicola is joining the growing number of families wanting action to reduce the number of people in ATUs.
More than 2000 people with learning disabilities held in ATUs
A total of 2,040 people with learning disabilities and/or autism were in the hospitals at the end of August, according to NHS Digital figures.
Of those, 1,145 - 56 per cent - had been in hospital for a total of more than two years.
The average cost to the tax payer of keeping a person detained in hospital is thought to be £3,563 per week or £185,276 per year
Kirsty Stuart, an expert public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Patient A and Nicola, is also supporting more than 25 other families whose loved ones are in ATUs.
Expert Opinion“This is yet another case where the loved ones of people with autism and/or a learning disability are detained in units which were not designed to care for people such as Patient A.
“The first-hand account we’ve heard from Nicola about what’s happening to her son is probably the worst I’ve heard. Understandably Patient A’s family are deeply concerned. We’re now investigating these concerns and how the legal process can help the family.
“Despite previous government pledges to reduce the number of people detained in ATUs, sadly we’re seeing an increasing number of families asking for help. They feel they have no option but to seek legal advice in order for their loved ones to receive the care they deserve.
“We call on The Priory, the CCG and local authority to work with ourselves and Patient A’s family to reach an agreement over his care, which the family believe should be in the community as this would give him the best quality of life.” Kirsty Stuart - Associate Solicitor
Assessment and treatment units: Patient A's story
Patient A had a typical childhood up until around the age of 12. He was diagnosed as autistic aged seven, then later with Tourette’s and a learning disability. It was around the age of 14 that his family started to struggle with managing the changes in his mental state and Patient A hit crisis point.
He left his family home in March 2012 to go into residential care aged 14 and was moved from placement to placement experiencing some significant and concerning care. He was admitted to Mersey Lodge ward in Cheadle Royal Hospital on 5 September, 2017. The space used to be an old file room at the back of the hospital. The hospital built the private apartment from scratch specifically for Patient A, which he has not left for four years.
'People wouldn't treat an animal' like my son
Nicola, who works it the care sector, said: “We fully appreciate that my son has complex needs but he’s being treated terribly. He’s locked away from the world and has no physical contact with anyone. For his meals to be pushed through a tiny gap in the bottom of the hatch is awful.
“People wouldn’t treat an animal that way and I feel that his care is worse than being in prison.
“Patient A has challenges but is a loving and caring person who needs stimulation and support. He is getting nothing at present. I can’t even hold his hand or hug him because of the conditions he’s kept in.
“Every time I see him it breaks my heart. He has no quality of life, he just exists. I’ve been told by some of those involved in my son’s care that things aren’t working and Patient A could, with the right support, be cared for in the community.
“It’s difficult not to think that the longer he’s left, the worse his condition will become, until the point where he’s unable to be released.
“This isn’t about money. He has five carers assigned to him all the time. That level of staffing is costly and is probably a waste of money given that he has no contact with anyone.
“We keep asking for more to be done to support my son but nothing seems to happen. We’ve been left with no choice other than to take this action.
“All I want is what any mum would want and that is the best for their son so he can try and make the most of his life.”
Mencap concern over ATUs
Dan Scorer, head of policy and public affairs at the learning disability charity Mencap, said: “We are 10 years on from the Winterbourne View abuse scandal when the Government promised to transform care, yet over 2,000 people with a learning disability and/or autism continue to be trapped in modern-day asylums. They are often far from home and at increased risk of abuse and neglect - but the Government has broken promise after promise to close beds and support people in the community.
“Many of the people in inpatient units have ended up there because of the lack of funding for social care and not because they have a genuine need for a period of inpatient mental health care.
“The Government must treat this scandal with the urgency that’s needed and publish its long-awaited strategy as soon as possible to drive the change that is desperately needed, such as development of the right support in the community.
“People with a learning disability and / or autism deserve to live in their own home just like anyone else – not in a hospital.”
Background: About Winterbourne View and ATUs
In 2011 undercover filming by BBC Panorama uncovered a pattern of serious abuse at Winterbourne View, a private hospital near Bristol which treated people with learning disabilities and autism.
Filming showed patients being dragged and slapped by staff.
Following the programme a number of workers were arrested and the home closed.
At the end of June 2011 a group of 86 organisations wrote to the Government asking for the use of residential hospitals to end.
The following month a Care Quality Commission report found there had been a systematic failure to protect residents at Winterbourne View.
In July 2011 it was also revealed that other employees working at the hospital had raised concerns to the authorities 19 times before the BBC filming took place.
A total of 11 former staff members pleaded guilty to criminal charges in relation to the abuse of residents.
In December 2012 the Government said it was planning a “dramatic reduction” in the number of people with learning disabilities who were kept in hospitals in England. More focus would be placed on community-based support, it added.
Footage appeared to depict patients at Whorlton Hall being mistreated
In May 2019 Panorama also broadcast a programme regarding Whorlton Hall, an ATU near Barnard Castle, County Durham. Filming appeared to depict patients with learning disabilities being mistreated.
Whorlton Hall was an independent hospital 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.
Also in May 2019 Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced an independent review of patients in segregation and the care they received.
It followed an interim review into the use of restraint, segregation and prolonged seclusion in the health and care sector, published by the Care Quality Commission which described the system as “not fit for purpose”.
Find out more about our expertise in supporting people detained in mental health units and their families at our dedicated protecting your rights section. Alternatively to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.