“People wouldn’t treat an animal that way”: Mum fighting for release of autistic son detained behind a hatch

A mum has criticised the care of her autistic son who has been detained behind a hatch for four years, claiming it is ‘worse than being in prison’.

Nicola claims her 24-year-old son has ‘no physical contact’ with anyone while he lives in a room at Cheadle Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester, which is part of the Priory group.

She has instructed lawyers to investigate her son’s care, and says he has ‘no quality of life’.

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The man, named as Patient A to protect his privacy, lives in an old file room which was converted into a private apartment.

He has meals delivered through a hatch in the door.

The room is monitored by CCTV and has a bedroom, a bathroom and a small lounge area and a sensory room.

Nicola wants a judge to review his sectioning under the Mental Health Act, and provide a route to a proper home in the community.

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In a statement, the hospital said the welfare of patients is its ‘number one priority’.

Patient A suffers from learning disabilities and Tourette’s syndrome, and had a normal childhood until his early teens.

At the age of 14 his family started to struggle to cope with the changes to his mental state, and he was taken into residential care.

He was admitted to the Mersey Lodge at the hospital in September 2017.

Nicola, from Liverpool, said she wants Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and Liverpool City Council to help find an alternative in the community.

She said: “We fully appreciate that my son has complex needs but he’s being treated terribly.

Patient A has meals delivered through a hatch in the door
(Image: Irwin Mitchell)

“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.

“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”
(Image: Irwin Mitchell)

“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.”

A Priory spokesman said: “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.

A Priory spokesman said: “The welfare of the people we look after is our number one priority”
(Image: Irwin Mitchell)

“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.

“Specialist placements – whether residential or in the community – require significant funding and are commissioned by the NHS or Clinical Commissioning Groups who have statutory obligations to achieve best value and the highest possible quality.

“Priory provides these placements as they are commissioned with considerable input from families and funders in order to make sure the environment and care provided is appropriate.

“Priory is always ready and willing to participate in any review of a placement as part of the Transforming Care programme.”

Kirsty Stuart, a lawyer from Irwin Mitchell who is 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.”

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