Autistic man, 24, locked in room ‘worse than jail’ and fed through hatch for 4 years

A young man with autism has been locked up in an old file room with his meals pushed through a hatch for more than four years according to his desperate mum.

Patient A, 24, lives at private psychiatric facility, Cheadle Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester, which is part of the Priory group.

His mother, Nicola Cassidy, 49, says his movements inside the “tiny” room, are constantly tracked by CCTV, he has no physical contact with anybody and his meals are slid through a gap in the bottom of a wooden hatch.

Patient A, who also has a learning disability and Tourette’s syndrome, has been detained under the Mental Health Act since September 2017 in what his mum claims is an old file room at the back of the hospital.

Now Nicola from Liverpool is preparing to launch a legal battle to have him released from his “life in a box” adding that “people wouldn’t treat an animal” like they do her son and his care is “worse than being in prison”.

She 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. For his meals to be pushed through a tiny gap in the bottom of the hatch is awful.

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

“He 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.”

The desperate mum is taking her case to the Court of Protection in the hopes a judge will review her son’s sectioning under the Mental Health Act – and with the help of Liverpool’s Clinical Commissioning Group and Council get him back into a home in the community.

Currently, Patient A has a bedroom, a bathroom and a small lounge area, plus a “snug” or sensory room, where he often sleeps, under the eye of a CCTV camera at Cheadle Royal Hospital.

Nicola says he is looked after by staff at a ratio of five to one and when his room needs cleaning he is shut in a separate area, such as an area of garden, closed off by high metal fencing.

She believes with the right support her son will flourish and be able to spend more time with his family.

She said: “Every time I see him it breaks my heart. He has no quality of life, he just exists.

“I’ve been told by some of those involved in my son’s care that things aren’t working and Patient A could, with the right support, be cared for in the community.

“It’s difficult not to think that the longer he’s left, the worse his condition will become, until the point where he’s unable to be released.

“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.

“We keep asking for more to be done to support my son but nothing seems to happen. 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.”

Nicola says her son had a typical childhood up until around the age of 12.

He was diagnosed as autistic aged seven, then later with Tourette’s and a learning disability.

It was around the age of 14 that his family started to struggle with managing the changes in his mental state and Patient A hit crisis point.

He left his family home to go into residential care aged 14 in 2012 and was moved from placement to placement.

He was admitted to Mersey Lodge ward in Cheadle Royal Hospital on September 5, 2017, where he has stayed ever since.

Kirsty Stuart, an expert public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Patient A and Nicola, 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.

“We call on The Priory, the CCG 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 total of 2,040 people with learning disabilities and/or autism were in the hospitals at the end of August 2021, according to NHS Digital figures.

Of those, 1,145 – 56 percent – had been in hospital for a total of more than two years.

The average cost to the taxpayer of keeping a person detained in hospital is thought to be £3,563 per week or £185,276 per year.

But the Priory Group, which runs the private psychiatric hospital, has denied Nicola’s claims that food is slid under the hatch to her son.

The group claim the facility is purpose-built and while it does have a serving hatch in the door, they say it is a “large square space where items of various sizes can be passed though including his food on a tray”.

A spokesman for the group also said the accommodation was “fully renovated to provide the care package that has been commissioned by the Clinical Commissioning Group”.

The group added the family provided input at the time on the design and were supportive of the accommodation being provided.

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.

“Our Adult Care division has successfully provided at least 39 such placements, with positive outcomes for the individuals involved.

“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 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.

“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.

“Medication is always prescribed by a consultant psychiatrist, and where patients are detained under the MHA, agreed by a second, independent doctor from the CQC. We aim to reduce medications to the lowest possible doses to keep people safe.”

“Specialist placements – whether residential or in the community – require significant funding and are commissioned by the NHS or Clinical Commissioning Groups who have statutory obligations to achieve the best value and the highest possible quality.

“Priory provides these placements as they are commissioned with considerable input from families and funders in order to make sure the environment and care provided are appropriate.

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