Father of autistic 17-year-old sues the NHS for ‘torturing’ his daughter after she spent the last TWO YEARS locked in a 12ft cell in a psychiatric hospital
- Severely autistic Bethany, 17, has been locked in a 12ft-by-10ft cell for 23 months
- Her food is passed in by a tray, she is not even allowed to hug her parents
- Father Jeremy is suing the NHS for breaching her right to freedom from torture
- He says nurses left her with a biro in her arm for six weeks after she self-harmed
The father of an autistic teenager who says his 17-year-old daughter has been locked in a 12-foot cell in a psychiatric hospital for two years is taking the NHS for ‘torturing’ his child and depriving her of basic human rights.
Bethany, 17, has been kept in a 12-by-10-foot cell at an assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in Birmingham for 23 months.
Her father Jeremy said the first time he saw the conditions in which his child was being kept, he thought it was ‘like a scene from Hannibal Lecter.’
Bethany has not been allowed to leave her cell – which contains only a chair and a mattress – and her parents, who can only visit once a week, must speak to her through a hatch in the door.
They have not hugged in two years.
Jeremy, pictured right, has not been able to hug his autistic daughter Bethany, pictured left, for two years since she was placed in an isolation cell in a psychiatric hospital in Birmingham
He said Bethany, pictured here shortly before she was sectioned two years ago and placed in St Andrews in Birmingham, is ‘like any other 17-year-old girl’ when her severe anxiety is not triggered
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The cell contains a small ensuite bathroom but no door, so staff at the centre can see her at all times. She is passed her food on a tray through the hatch.
Bethany, who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act, was moved to the isolation cell shortly after she arrived at the institution, run by St Andrews Healthcare, because she struggled to cope with the other patients.
But Jeremy says the tiny room was designed as a short-term measure to isolate those undergoing a massive emotional break down, not for long-term nursing.
Bethany was moved out of the room last Friday, after her case started to receive massive media attention when her father spoke to BBC Radio 4, but Jeremy – who fears she will be returned to the cell shortly – is suing her carers.
He is launching legal action against NHS England, Walsall Council, St Andrews Healthcare and Walsall CCG, citing a breach of Beth’s human rights, right to freedom from torture, and right to privacy.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘We are demanding changes to Bethany’s conditions in which she is living. We want changes to the lack of privacy and dignity.’
He is insisting the institutions propose a clear plan of care to move Bethany into a more integrated, less secluded environment, and to better consider her views regarding her own care.
He said social services promised Bethany’s stay at St Andrews would be short and she would have access to therapy, but that instead she was moved ‘from environment to environment’ which caused her distress.
‘She could not cope with living with other young people like her, so Beth was placed in separation nursing away from anyone,’ he said.
Bethany has her food passed to her on a tray through a hatch in the door of her 12-foot-by-10-foot room for almost two years. Her father is now suing to improve her care
Bethany aged 12 in her grandparents’ garden. As the family approach their third Christmas apart, she will not be allowed to keep any gifts they give her
She is being kept at St Andrews hospital in Birmingham. The institution said in a statement its top priority is to provide the best possible care for patients
‘That then became a month living in a seclusion cell that is a 10ft by 12ft room with nothing in it but a plastic coated mattress and plastic coated chair.
‘Those rooms are designed to allow people who are in massive emotional break down states to be somewhere safe for a very short period of time. To keep them safe while they get over their anxious state or meltdown.
‘They are not designed for long term nursing. Beth has been in there for 23 months.’
‘They say that if Beth is removed from the cell, it is likely that she will be too upset to go back in which would therefore be challenging for the nurses so they don’t open the door.’
Jeremy told the Metro that St Andrews does not understand his daughter’s condition and is not treating it adequately.
Bethany has had a difficult journey to her current circumstances.
She moved out of the family home at the age of nine to her first residential school with other autistic children but struggled to cope with the boundaries, and the placement collapsed.
Her anxiety spiralled and a total of 17 different placements, all autism specialists, failed before she was moved to St Andrews.
She is especially susceptible to sensory overload, and when that happens her behaviour can become ‘extremely challenging’, her father said.
Jeremy says St Andrews carried out an assessment on Bethany 18 months ago which concluded she should be in the community yet neither they, nor Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group, has facilitated that move.
Bethany enjoying a Christmas grotto five years ago, with her father in happier times. He claims the NHS and other care providers have breached her human rights
On November 30, the government responded to a petition calling for the detention of people with autism and learning disabilities in ATU’s to be stopped.
It said: ‘We agree that people with autism and learning disabilities should not be inappropriately detained in mental health hospitals. The CQC will review the use of long-term segregation and seclusion.’
For it to be debated though, the petition, which is almost at 20,000 signatures, will need to hit 100,000 before it will be eligible for debate in Parliament.
The truck driver from Harbourne said St Andrews are using Beth’s condition under the Mental Health Act to remove her rights.
The only relatives allowed to visit Bethany are her parents, who are divorced, her brother and her parents’ partners. She has not seen the rest of her family for two years and missed a grandparent’s funeral.
He explained: ‘In that cell she is institutionalized now. She wants friends but because they’re not on the approved list of visitors, she doesn’t have anyone so talks to imaginary friends.
‘She’s missed out being close with her brother because he’s never been there. He finds visiting so so upsetting because he wants to be close to her but he can’t. They’ve not hugged in two years.’
He was horrified the first time he saw his daughter’s living conditions.
‘We walked down the corridor to find Beth locked in this horrific room, behind a glass window and she was just so distressed, sobbing. It was like a scene from Hannibal Lecter.
‘You see your child in that setting and there is no reason for it. Walsall tried to put the gagging order on me as soon as I started speaking about her treatment in St Andrews. They said it was to protect her rights to privacy but that’s just laughable.’
Outraged by how his daughter was being treated, Jeremy launched a social media campaign two months ago to ‘free’ her, but Walsall Council sought an injunction to ban him from sharing details about her.
He fought the injunction and it was withdrawn by the council on October 11, who were also ordered to pay Jeremy’s legal costs, according to charity Mencap, which has been supporting Bethany’s family.
He said: ‘I only had two days to prepare for the court order and I was totally angry and scared that it could lead to me being stopped from seeing Bethany or talking about her.
‘When Beth gets upset, she either wants to run away or starts displaying challenging behaviour. When she can’t do that, she self harms.
Statement from St Andrews
In a statement, healthcare provider St Andrews said: ‘Unfortunately, without patient consent we are not in a position to comment on any specific patient, their care or treatment with St Andrew’s.
‘We are a provider of specialist mental healthcare to the National Health Service (NHS), who refer patients to us where there is a lack of capacity or relevant expertise within the NHS.
‘We have an important job to do and our focus and priority is to provide the best possible care we can for our patients.
‘All staffing decisions are based on the care needs and safety of our patients. Where patients find interaction with other patients unsettling every effort is made to mitigate this by the use of bespoke environments with permanent staff.
‘For those patients who are referred to our hospital environments at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, our role is to provide care as best we can and proactively advocate on their behalf when we believe it is right for them to move on. The needs of our patients can and do change over the course of months.
‘All patients have their progress monitored regularly by their care team. This team is made up of a number of professionals from organisations including the NHS, St Andrew’s and local care teams.
‘Their role is to monitor progress and make decisions about ongoing care, every step of the way from admission through to transfer and discharge.
‘St Andrew’s is only meant to be a part of a patient’s care pathway and we are fully committed to Transforming Care and supporting our patients back into the community as soon as possible.
‘We work proactively with the NHS England and the wider care teams to find specialised community placements. However, due to the national shortage of suitable community placements this can, at times, be challenging.’
‘An agency nurse on duty happened to give Beth a biro and she inserted it in her arm and it stayed there for six weeks.
‘St Andrews knew it was in there but under their risk assessment, they said it was too difficult to remove and said Beth would need sedation or general anesthetic and they didn’t have plan in place to take her to a hospital to facilitate that.
‘They didn’t view the pen in her arm as life-threatening so they didn’t remove it.
‘It was only after the media campaign which led to another member of staff to go into her room within two days, give her a local anesthetic and pop it out.
‘I only found out about it after and I was shocked – if you left a dog in a cage with a pen stuck in it, there would be national outcry but because it’s a child in one of these ATUs, they’re forgotten.’
As the family prepare to spend their third Christmas separated from their daughter. They are planning to get around weekly visitation limits with Jeremy going to see her on Christmas Eve, and her mother and brother visiting on the 25th. They plan to take in food and eat ‘togther’ on either side of the hatch in her cell door.
He said: ‘It’s absolutely horrific to have to do that. Beth will have a Christmas of sorts but not the Christmas she wants.’
He said that when Bethany is not suffering anxiety, she is ‘like any other 17-year-old, you wouldn’t know she is autistic. She has a brilliant sense of humour, loves singing, makeup, loves doing silly girly things, she is an absolute pleasure.’
But her isolation means he cannot give her the gifts he would like.
He explained: ‘She won’t be allowed to keep anything in her room as you’re restricted on what you can bring in.
‘You can’t take any metal parts in, batteries, anything a 17-year-old would want like makeup, nail polish, because the rules wont allow it.
‘I don’t even have an up to date photo of my daughter because you’re not allowed to take in a camera.’
Bethany’s care currently costs the NHS £13,000 a week. Mencap says that if she moves out into the community, Walsall Council would have to cover the cost.
Jeremy hopes a solution is found for Beth soon and insists there is ‘no reason why she can’t go on to have a normal life like anyone else.
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘It is an absolute priority for the NHS and local commissioners to identify a safe and appropriate care setting for Bethany which will best meet her needs.’
Tonight Jeremy told MailOnline: ‘I am trying to work with everyone involved to get Bethany out of St Andrews, this hasn’t worked so far, but I deeply hope it will soon.
‘I am keen to be involved and positively engaged in moving things forward.’
Bethany will have been at St Andrews for two hears on December 20. Her father said when she is not suffering anxiety, she is ‘like any other 17-year-old, you wouldn’t know she is autistic. She has a brilliant sense of humour, loves singing, makeup, loves doing silly girly things, she is an absolute pleasure.’
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