Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Lawyers to investigate the care of an autistic man living “in a box” at Cheshire hospital

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The mother of a 24-year-old man with a learning disability, autism and Tourette’s has instructed specialist lawyers to investigate the care her son is receiving at an assessment and treatment unit (ATU).

Nicola Cassidy began the legal challenge due to her son’s “awful” care conditions at Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal in Cheshire, where he is completely secluded and his meals are pushed through a small hatch.

Patient A has not left the apartment or had any physical contact in four years

‘Patient A’, whose name has not been disclosed to protect his identity, was detained under the Mental Health Act and admitted to the privately-run hospital in 2017.

The hospital constructed the apartment in an old file room specifically for Patient A, ensuring he was kept away from other patients due to his ‘challenging’ behaviour. The apartment consists of a bedroom, bathroom, lounge and sensory room, which is constantly observed by CCTV cameras.

Patient A has no contact with anyone and has not left the apartment since his admission. When the rooms need cleaning, he is often shut in the small garden area which is closed off by high metal fencing.

Nicola, 49, from Walton in Liverpool, says she has not held her son’s hand or hugged him since he was detained four years ago and even his carers, who work at a staff ratio of five to one, have no physical interaction with him.

Nicola, who works in the care sector herself, said: “We fully appreciate that my son has complex needs but he’s being treated terribly. People wouldn’t treat an animal that way and I feel that his care is worse than being in prison.”

Nicola says her son is a “loving and caring person who needs stimulation and support”, and right now, “he has no quality of life, he just exists.”

Nicola wants her son to be cared for in the community

Nicola now wants her son to be released from his “life in a box”, and hopes that Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Liverpool City Council will help to find her son a community placement, allowing him to “flourish and spend more time with his family.”

Kirsty Stuart, a human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell is representing Patient A and Nicola. Kirsty hopes that by working with The Priory, the CCG and local authority, she can help the family to find a care placement that will offer Patient A the best quality of life possible.

Kirsty is currently working with more than 25 other families whose loved ones are trapped inside ATUs. She 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.

“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’ve been left with no choice other than to take this action”

A Priory spokesperson said that the hospital works hard to deliver the best care for patients and their team of experts are constantly reviewing care plans.
They 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.

“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.

However, Nicola maintains that the family have asked for extra support on multiple occasions but “nothing seems to happen.”

She added: “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.”

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