Gov launch investigation into two-year detention of autistic girl in ‘cell-like’ room
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has launched an investigation into the case of an autistic girl said to have been detained in a “cell-like” hospital room for almost two years.
Labour raised concerns over 17-year-old Bethany, who MPs heard also has extreme anxiety, and urged the Government to act to stop vulnerable people being kept in “expensive and unsuitable” places due to councils lacking resources.
Shadow health minister Barbara Keeley likened conditions of care for those with autism and learning disabilities to the infamous Victorian psychiatric hospital Bedlam, as she told ministers how sustained cuts to local authority budgets had resulted in the most vulnerable being locked away for “long periods in institutional care”.
Replying for the Government, Mr Hancock said of Bethany’s case: “On seeing the reports in the media, I have immediately asked for an investigation inside the department along with NHS England and CQC (Care Quality Commission).
“This is clearly a very distressing case that was brought to my attention initially by Ian Birrell, and we will get to the bottom of it.
“More broadly, the number of inpatients is now down to 2,375 – it’s a fall of 17% from March 2015 to the latest figures, including 600 who previously had been in hospital for five years or more, so there has been some progress but there is clearly more to do.”
Opening a debate on social care funding, Ms Keeley cited the “chilling” case of Bethany.
The Labour MP said: “She is being kept in seclusion in St Andrew’s Hospital in Northamptonshire in a cell-like room and fed through a hatch in a metal door at which even her father must kneel to speak with her when he visits.
“She is being detained and held in seclusion despite an assessment that the current hospital setting is not able to meet her needs and a recommendation that she be moved to a community residential setting with high support.”
Ms Keeley added: “I have to say that the lack of funding is clearly a factor here.
“Bethany’s dad was told by the Walsall council officer responsible for her placement that her care has already cost the council £1.2 million and to be frank, he said, Walsall could do with a breather.
“Bethany is being treated shamefully, it is hard to imagine somebody saying a similar thing about the cost of treatment for a young person with cancer.”
Ms Keeley went on to quote from an article which covered Bethany’s case and posed the question, “Have we moved far from Bedlam?”
The MP continued: “The answer is I’m afraid we have not.”
A non-binding Labour motion which warned that cuts to council budgets have caused a social care “funding crisis” and also called on the Government to “close the funding gap” was approved unopposed.
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