Autistic man confined to a ‘box’ in hospital for four years, family claims

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An autistic 24-year-old man has been confined to a “box” in hospital for four years, it has been claimed, as his family considers taking legal action.

Known only as Patient A to protect his identity, the man has been living in a secure apartment which was previously a file room at Cheadle Royal Hospital, Greater Manchester, part of the Priory group, under the constant watch of CCTV.

His meals are slid through a wooden hatch in the wall and he has not been in the same room as any family members since April 2020.

The man only leaves the room to allow it to be cleaned by staff, while he is locked outside in a fenced courtyard, The Sunday Times first reported.

“People wouldn’t treat an animal that way”, his mother, Nicola, from Liverpool, said.

Nicola has now instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the care of her son.

Instead of outsourcing his care to The Priory, the family wants the Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Liverpool City Council to work towards providing a community placement for the 24-year-old.

‘Treated terribly’

If an agreement cannot be reached an application could be made to the Court of Protection to hear the case, it is understood.

Patient A, who also has a learning disability and Tourette’s syndrome, has been detained under the Mental Health Act since September 2017.

“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,” his mother said.

“People wouldn’t treat an animal that way and I feel that his care is worse than being in prison.”

“He needs a chance to live a life beyond this box. He’s never had the chance of having a proper home. Until he gets that, how can he have a proper life?” she told The Sunday Times.

The cost of his confinement is an estimated £20,000 a week, the newspaper reported, and he has a team of five carers at all times.

It comes 10 years on from the Winterbourne View scandal, uncovered by the BBC, where patients with learning disabilities and autism were abused by staff.

Although that is not alleged in the case of Patient A, following the scandal the Government found many such people were inappropriately living in mental health hospitals, and launched the Transforming Care programme to reduce the number.

But between 2015 and 2021, the number of autistic people detained in hospitals has increased from 1,100 to 1,215, The Sunday Times reported.

Purpose-built and fully renovated

Kirsty Stuart, an expert public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Patient A and his family, said: “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.”

The Priory said the accommodation was purpose-built and fully renovated and Patient A’s family provided input at the time. They claimed it was incorrect to say he had not left the accommodation in four years.

A Priory spokesman said: “The welfare of the people we look after is our number one priority”, and added that at least 39 patients in their care have been successfully transferred to appropriate community settings.

“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,” he added.

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