A mother has slammed the treatment of her autistic son who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for young people and adults four years ago – and has been detained behind a hatch in an old file room.
Nicola, 50, often gets ‘overwhelmed’ when she visits her 24-year-old son – known as patient A – because he has ‘become completely institutionalised’ and spends most of his time alone without any physical contact.
He wakes up late every day, plays computer games and his meals are passed through a gap in the wooden hatch by staff, who leave him to eat alone.
Patient A, who also has a learning disability and Tourette’s syndrome, has been detained under the Mental Health Act since September 2017.
Nicola, 50, has slammed the treatment of her autistic son who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for young people and adults four years ago and has been detained behind a hatch (pictured) in an old file room
The secure 423 square foot apartment which features a garden – with a cycling track and trampoline – a snug room, lounge, bedroom and bathroom
The apartment is monitored round the clock by CCTV and is about the size of a large living room
He was admitted to a unit for patients with severe mental illness at the Countess of Chester Hospital at age 14 after he started regularly ‘lashing out’ at his grandparents, mother and brother.
Nicola says her son 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.
By age 20, he was admitted to Mersey Lodge at Cheadle Royal Hospital and spends his time in a secure 423 square foot apartment that features a garden – with a cycling track and trampoline – a snug room, lounge, bedroom and bathroom.
The apartment is monitored round the clock by CCTV and is about the size of a large living room.
In a CQC report published in November, Cheadle Royal Hospital was given the overall summary that it ‘required improvement’ and it was also ranked ‘inadequate’ by inspectors on safety.
Nicola said ‘people wouldn’t treat an animal’ like they do her son and his care is ‘worse than being in prison’.
In an investigation led by The Sunday Times, Nicola said: ‘Sometimes I have to get out of there just so I can breathe.
‘Being in that box isn’t right for his autism. The only thing he has to look forward to in life is the things I give him. A PlayStation. A mobile phone. Films. Takeaways. Every room he enters, they are watching him on a monitor. That’s no life for a 24-year-old.’
During the visits with her son, Nicola ‘dreads’ going into the viewing room where she sits on a chair and speaks to her son through an ‘eight-inch gap underneath a Perspex screen’ because she is faced with the ‘reality’ of her son’s situation.
Nicola, from Liverpool, is preparing to launch a legal battle in the Court of Protection to have him released from his ‘life in a box’.
She wants a judge to review his sectioning under the Mental Health Act and provide a route to a proper home in the community.
Nicola wants Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and Liverpool City Council to help work towards providing a community placement
Nicola said her son wakes up late every day, spends most of his time on computer games and his meals are passed through a gap in the wooden hatch by staff
She 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.
‘He 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.’
Nicola wants Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and Liverpool City Council to help work towards providing a community placement.
She says with the right support that will help her son to flourish and spend more time with his family.
She added: ‘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.
In a CQC report published in November, Cheadle Royal Hospital was given the overall summary that it ‘required improvement’ and it was also ranked ‘inadequate’ by inspectors on safety
‘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.’
Kirsty Stuart, an expert public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Patient A and Nicola, said: ‘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.
‘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.’
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.
A Priory spokesman told MailOnline: ‘The welfare of the people we look after is our number one priority. We are fully committed to the Transforming Care agenda and to ensuring well-planned transfers to the most appropriate community settings whenever they become available.
‘Our Adult Care division has successfully provided at least 39 such placements, with positive outcomes for the individuals involved. Unfortunately however, some individuals with highly complex behaviours, and detained under the Mental Health Act, can be difficult to place despite all parties working very hard together over a long period of time to find the right setting.
‘At all times we work closely with families, commissioners, and NHSE to ensure patients are receiving the safest, most appropriate care in our facilities. That care is delivered and kept under regular review by a multi-disciplinary team of experts, including a consultant psychiatrist and an NHS autism specialist, and independently reviewed by commissioners.
‘Staff provide round-the-clock support at Mersey Lodge and all interventions are carefully and continually reviewed, monitored and assessed to ensure they are in the best interests of patients, with the aim of achieving the least restrictive setting possible.
‘Medication is always prescribed by a consultant psychiatrist, and where patients are detained under the MHA, agreed by a second, independent doctor from the CQC. We aim to reduce medications to the lowest possible doses to keep people safe.’
The spokesperson noted that they ‘operate on the principle that family and carers always have access to the accommodation, subject to risk assessment’ and the accommodation was ‘purpose built and fully renovated to provide the care package that has been commissioned by the Clinical Commissioning Group’.
They added that the patient’s ‘family provided input at the time on the design, and were supportive of the accommodation being provided’ and ‘it is inaccurate to claim that meals are slid through a gap in the bottom of a wooden hatch because the purpose built facility does have a serving hatch in the door, which is a large square space where items of various sizes can be passed though including his food on a tray.’