Jan Tregelles MencapA mother has called for her son, who has suffered ‘institutional abuse’ while resident at an assessment and treatment unit (ATU), to be moved back into the community.

Lynne McCarrick wants her son Chris, 22, who has autism and a learning disability to be moved out to somewhere where he can build a long-term home in his local community close to his loving family. She is extremely concerned for his safety.

Chris has been detained in an ATU run by Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust for more than 3 years. A safeguarding investigation concluded that Chris had suffered 'institutional abuse' and had been hit by staff. Further claims by a whistleblower stated that they had witnessed Chris being spat at, kicked at, hit in the chest and had sanitiser sprayed into his eyes  while  under the care of Calderstones. 

Calderstones has been told it must take urgent action to address serious failings in its services to people with learning disabilities, following an inspection by care regulator the Care Quality Commission. Failings included failure to maintain cleanliness and hygiene on the wards, problems with levels of staffing, poor medicines management, the frequency with which patients were restrained in the face-down position, and a failure to adequately monitor the use of the Mental Health Act.

“I am not surprised that the CQC found failings at Calderstones NHS Trust,” said Lynne. “This is not a place that I want my son. Chris was sent to a hospital run by Calderstones NHS Trust as the local authority and the NHS said there was nowhere else for him to go. 

“My beautiful son has many amazing attributes. He is funny, lively and has great potential yet there he is, isolated in a flat in a hospital with only paid carers around him. He has been denied education and has no peers. He has no life, he simply exists and yet his service is bewilderingly expensive. My son continues to languish in what is effectively a 'holding bay'. We have even been prevented from seeing him. Chris has no voice so we make our concerns known but we are ignored and shut out. I want him to be near his home and family, so we can make sure he is safe and is given the opportunity to live a life.”

End in-patient unit culture 

In response, charities Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation have called on NHS England and its partners in government and local authorities to enact the recommendations of the recently-published Bubb Report as a matter of urgency.

Jan Tregelles (pictured), chief executive of Mencap, said the CQC’s findings painted a “sickening picture” of what is happening inside a hospital trust providing care for people with a learning disability. It also reveals that 40% of patients at Caldestones have been there for 5 years or more, mostly detained until the Mental Health Act.  

“This shows the urgent need to end the unacceptable culture of sending people away to in-patient units such as those run by Calderstones.  These are not places where families would ever want to send their loved ones but we know that there are over 3,000 people in these units and more people are going in than moving out. These are places often hundreds of miles away from their homes, where people are at significant risk of abuse and neglect. 

“This report comes in the wake of silence from NHS England, the government and local authorities, on how they plan to enact the recommendations of the Bubb Report published last month. It has been three and half years since Winterbourne View, and over six months since the government failed to meet their own deadline for moving people out of in-patient units. The failings of Calderstone’s NHS Trust shows that urgent action is needed to move people out of in-patient settings and return them to their local communities or we risk continually and grossly failing some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We are all collectively responsible for addressing this failure.”  

Vivien Cooper OBE, chief executive of The Challenging Behaviour Foundation, added: “Immediate action must be taken now to ensure that people with learning disabilities within Calderstones are safe and receiving good care and support. It is also vital that assessment and treatment units that the Government describe as the wrong model of care are not used for long-term placements. All people with a learning disability should have access to good support in their local community.  

“We know from the Learning disability Census that people in in-patient services are at much higher risk of abuse, self-harm, being excessively restrained and over medicated. We talk to families everyday who face this difficult and distressing reality. This simply is not acceptable in Britain today. 

“[This] report highlights serious and significant concerns that must be addressed urgently. It is disgraceful that families continue to fight to have their concerns heard and secure the support their relatives need – when time after time independent evidence shows these services are failing the very people they are supposed to care for.”