The title mentioned thousands disabled with autism, but it actually only reported on one 28 year old man with severe autism.
More than 2,000 people with autism and learning disabilities are stuck in mental health hospitals across England, despite repeated Government promises to end the practice.
Last month we reported on Nicholas Thornton – who’s been moved to around a dozen inappropriate settings: a safeguarding report on his care shows how poor it’s been.
Our Health and Social Care Editor Victoria Macdonald caught up with him – and a warning her report contains details and images some viewers may find distressing.
I transcribed the news report because it was so concerning to me for one reason.
In the report about this young man in Essex with autism who is being so neglected and mistreated, we’re told, “Nicholas’s care is commissioned by the Essex County Council.”
VIDEO: Nicholas Thornton on a day out in the summer with his mother and brother. He’s a 28 year old man with autism and learning difficulties, who is currently an inpatient at Rochford Mental Health Unit in Essex, despite having no diagnosed mental health problem.
He is non-verbal but is able to reply by typing.
When we met them in August, his brother Sebastian read out his words.
It’s like torture that I can’t get away from the alarms and everything.
Now Channel 4 News and the Independent have seen a safeguarding report ordered after concerns were raised about Nicholas’s welfare and care.
It makes for disturbing reading, with allegations that he is not being fed properly and that he is kept in a secluded and locked room with no windows.
We have seen photos that are too distressing to broadcast, but they show soiled linen in the corner of Nicholas’s bedroom, flies on the ceilings and walls and an uncleaned toilet in his bathroom.
His mother said the stench was unbearable.
We’ve also seen photos of Nicholas lying on the floor, he’s fallen out of bed because there are no railings.
This safeguarding report has substantiated the complaints of psychological abuse, and partially substantiated the complaints of physical abuse.
We were able to speak to Nicholas from that room, though it was dark because he cannot bear the light.
Reporter: I know I’ve asked you this before, but where would you like to be?
Nicholas: …Somewhere that understands autism and can be, can meet my needs.
I just need to be out of here, and I can’t understand why I’m still here when I shouldn’t be.
…just keep delaying and making excuses all the time and don’t do anything.
Reporter: Nicholas’s care is commissioned by the Essex County Council.
He’s had 15 placements over the last over the last decade, many of them in inappropriate settings.
He’s suffered violence and abuse. In one instance a staff member tried to smother him with a pillow.
He also spent 18 months on the general ward of a hospital after Essex’s Council told his then care provider to leave him at an A and E [Accident and Emergency Department].
The Safeguarding reporters found that ‘all parties involved believed Mr. Thornton’s placement to be inappropriate and unable to provide the care he needs.
‘Staff are not specifically skilled to work with autism
‘That he has fallen from bed because it has no rails goes further to show the inappropriateness of his placement.
‘The relationship between Mr. Thornton and the ward staff has broken down and does not appear to be salvageable.
‘He should be placed in autism specific care as soon as possible, and Essex Council should expedite this placement.’
Reporter: Has there been a breakdown between you and the staff?
Nicholas: They never understood me, my needs, autism, etc. anyway, so there can’t be a breakdown when there wasn’t one in the first place.
Sebastian: Every time me and my mum go to visit him or take him out, we’re having to do his personal care ourselves because the hospital aren’t doing it. …
Neither of the organizations responsible for Nicholas’s care addressed the majority of our questions.
Essex County Council said we’re carefully considering the concerns raised and will work with the NHS body and the family to take forward appropriate actions, in accordance with out procedures.
And Essex Partnership Trust which runs the unit said we ensure that all patients are treated with compassion and that we provide care designed to best meet their physical and mental health needs.
The charity Mencap campaigns for people with autism and/or learning difficulties to be moved from hospitals into the community, but they said there are several sticking points….
A dark future
Over the past seven years I’ve been cataloging stories on the decline of children around the world and the U.K. is nothing short of a disaster when it comes to meeting the needs of disabled children and in educating them.
I’ve literally posted hundreds of stories about severely disabled children without special school places, children kicked out of the education system because the schools couldn’t provide for them, children given inappropriate places in mainstream schools because special schools are full. There are endless waiting lists lasting for years just for a diagnosis of a special need.
They can’t build special schools fast enough, and yet there’s always a shortage of places to meet the “increasing demand.”
The people in charge of all this are the local county councils across the U.K., and they’re doing a miserable job.
Now we learn that the councils also deal with disabled adults.
As this tragic story reveals, no one is prepared to provide for the endless waves of young adults with profound autism aging out of school. This is the future because autism numbers among our youngest children keep increasing.
Nicholas’s story will be repeated over and over, thousands of times in the coming years, just as we will continue to see endless reports of councils neglecting disabled schoolchildren.
Councils always promise to make improvements, but there are just too many special needs individuals for them to deal with. Will anyone ever ask why the numbers never stop increasing?
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism.
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