Mother mounts legal challenge over autistic son who is ‘locked away from the world’

A mother is fighting to free her autistic son who has been kept in a converted hospital filing room for more than four years.

Nicola Cassidy says her 24-year-old son has no physical contact with anyone and his meals are passed through a hatch at Priory Hospital Cheadle Royal in Cheshire.

Ms Cassidy, 49, from Walton, Liverpool, claims “people wouldn’t treat an animal” the way her son is cared for.

Patient A, whose name is not being disclosed to protect his privacy, was diagnosed as autistic aged seven, then later with Tourette’s syndrome and a learning disability.

He moved into residential care aged 14 after his family struggled to cope and moved to various placements before he was admitted under the Mental Health Act in September 2017 to Mersey Lodge ward at Cheadle Royal Hospital (pictured) in a purpose-built apartment on the site of a former file room.

Ms Cassidy said: “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.

“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.

“This isn’t about money. He has five carers assigned to him all the time. That level of staffing is costly and is probably a waste of money given that he has no contact with anyone.”

She has instructed specialist lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the care provided at the assessment and treatment unit (ATU) and is seeking a community placement for her son.

Kirsty Stuart, from Irwin Mitchell, 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.

“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 call on The Priory, the CCG (clinical commissioning group) and local authority to work with ourselves and Patient A’s family to reach an agreement over his care, which the family believe should be in the community, as this would give him the best quality of 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.

“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.

“At all times we work closely with families, commissioners, and NHS England to ensure patients are receiving the safest, most appropriate care in our facilities.

“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.

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

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