Judge criticises council over ‘atrocious’ treatment of severely traumatised autistic girl

A High Court judge has criticised a council over its “atrocious” treatment of a severely traumatised autistic girl who has been kept in hospital because of a delay in finding her suitable accommodation.

The 15-year-old, identified in court as R, is thought to be suffering post-traumatic stress disorder after “living in a war zone” in Iraq for several years.

She has been at specialist children’s hospital Alder Hey in Liverpool for a number of months while Liverpool City Council tried to find a long-term care placement which would meet her complex needs.

Mr Justice Hayden was told during a hearing in London that the rest of the girl’s ward had to be cleared “because of the risk that she poses” following an incident in which nine nurses and a security guard were injured.

That episode, which resulted in six members of staff having to take sick leave and another resigning, was “triggered” by the girl coming across a shrine to Alfie Evans, who died at the hospital in April following a battle with a degenerative brain disease.

The judge said the failure to find a placement was not only causing the girl harm, but was “actually preventing sick children being treated”, adding: “It is difficult to imagine a situation more horrific”.

He told lawyers for the council: “The fact is what has been happening here is little short of atrocious.

“The public have an interest in knowing so and it must never happen again.”

Mark Twomey QC, for Liverpool City Council, told the judge that a placement has been now been found for the teenager, but will not be ready for her to move into for another two weeks.

Mr Justice Hayden asked Michael Mylonas QC, for Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, whether the hospital could “manage” caring for the teen until then.

Mr Mylonas said that “the trust will, of course, continue to provide for R for as long as required”, but added: “That period should have ended a very long time ago.”

He said her condition “has been exacerbated precisely because of her treatment by social services”.

Mr Mylonas said up to five air ambulances arrive at the hospital every day, which made R “extremely distressed, and that is likely to be a consequence of having lived in a war zone”.

He added that the teenager had become “fixated” on the idea she would die at Alder Hey after she came across the shrine to Alfie in the hospital grounds and her support worker “explained to her that this was a young boy who had come to the hospital and died there”.

Mr Mylonas said the “extraordinarily insensitive” explanation had “provoked” the girl’s belief she would die at the hospital, which in turn “triggered the breakdown and assault”.

Mr Justice Hayden, who also heard the High Court case of Alfie, said he was “not for the first time this year, profoundly humbled by the dedication and the skill and the care and sheer humanity of the nursing, medical and auxiliary staff at Alder Hey Hospital.

“They should not have had to endure this. They simply should not have.

“It is self-evident that R herself should not have, but the stress to the staff and the fact that one actually resigned is utterly heartbreaking.

“All I can say is that they have my complete admiration and respect.”

Approving an interim care plan, the judge said that when she was admitted to hospital it was “self-evident” the council needed to find her a “safe, secure residential placement in which work could be commenced to address her obvious raft of needs”.

He added: “The full extent of the unsuitability has unravelled before me in a way that I simply would not have believed to be possible in the UK in 2018.”

The judge stated it was “reasonable to assume that much of her present and extreme behaviour may be in consequence of whatever it was she witnessed in Iraq”.

He concluded that R “has been subjected to really profound physical and emotional harm” and said “the state from whom she was entitled to expect care and support have caused her significant harm”.

A Liverpool City Council spokesman said: “Intensive and specialised support and care is needed for this child and it has taken much longer than all parties would have wished to identify a suitable placement to meet her specific needs.

“There has been an extensive UK-wide search for a therapeutic placement as all of those involved have been extremely concerned about the length of time the child has been in Alder Hey.

“A bespoke placement, which includes specialist training for those who will care for her, is in the process of being created.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Dave Thompson / PA Wire.