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Walsall Council and NHS apologise as father wins battle over autistic daughter's care

By Richard Guttridge | Walsall | Health | Published:

The father of a severely autistic teenage girl from Walsall has won his one-man battle against the borough council and NHS, who today apologised for keeping her locked up alone in a mental health hospital.

Jeremy, left, launched a campaign while daughter Bethany, top right, was kept in at a secure unit in Northampton, bottom right

Substantial damages have been awarded to 18-year-old Bethany after her father took legal action against Walsall Council, Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and NHS England.

Her plight made national headlines when her father Jeremy blew the whistle on the conditions she was being kept in at a secure unit in Northampton, despite the fact she did not have a mental health condition.

Bethany has pathological demand avoidance (PDA), which is characterised by an overwhelming need to avoid or resist demands.

However Jeremy revealed how she was being fed through a small metal hatch at St Andrew's Hospital in Northampton, which he had been forced to kneel down at in order to talk to her.

Walsall Council has apologised

He said that, rather than helping Bethany, the situation harmed her, made her increasingly scared and anxious due to her PDA and made her return to life outside of institutional care "much further away".

The case has now been settled and NHS England and St Andrew's Hospital, where she was held for more than two years, have accepted her care did not always comply with the Mental Health Act Code of Practice guidelines on "managing violence and aggression".

This "affected her wellbeing and made it harder for her to return to live in the community", they admitted.

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Walsall Council and the CCG have accepted there were delays moving Bethany from "what became an unsuitable placement for her".

St Andrew's and NHS England have also vowed to make changes to improve care of autistic people and in relation to "seclusion and long-term segregation".

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It represents a remarkable victory for former college lecturer Jeremy, who has asked only to be identified by his first name, and whose claim was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

He said: "I'm really proud of the things that have been accomplished and the review into the care of everyone where restraint and seclusion is a part of daily life."

Bethany has since been moved to another unit in Wales which he says is also unsuitable but it is hoped she will be moved to an appropriate setting soon.

A joint statement from the organisations involved said: "St Andrew’s Healthcare, Walsall MBC, Walsall CCG and NHS England have apologised to Bethany and her parents.

"Walsall Council, Walsall CCG and NHS England are also working together to ensure Bethany moves to a bespoke community placement, planning for which has started.

"All of the defendants take the care of people with learning disabilities very seriously and NHS England is currently finalising a review of Bethany’s care to look at what went wrong and what needs to happen to improve care for people with autistic spectrum disorder."

Walsall Council tried to silence Jeremy, who is now a truck driver and lives in Harborne, Birmingham, by taking out an injunction against him after he launched his campaign on Twitter.

However Jeremy won his right to speak out following a battle at the High Court last year which left the council with a large legal fee.

The public statement in full

"On 21 February 2019 proceedings were issued by Jeremy, the father and litigation friend of Bethany, challenging her prolonged detention at St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton from December 2016 to February 2019. This claim was supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

"At mediation on 25 September 2019, agreement was reached which has resolved matters, including the claim for damages, without the need for further litigation. St Andrew’s Healthcare and NHS England have accepted that the care provided to Bethany did not always comply with the Mental Health Act Code of Practice and the NICE Guidelines on managing violence and aggression. This affected her wellbeing and made it harder for her to return to live in the community.

"Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) and NHS Walsall Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have accepted that there were unfortunate delays in moving Bethany from what became an unsuitable placement for her. St Andrew’s Healthcare, Walsall MBC, Walsall CCG and NHS England have apologised to Bethany and her parents.

"St Andrew’s Healthcare and NHS England have put in place changes to improve the care of people with autistic spectrum disorder including:

"a) New policies and systems for monitoring compliance with the MHA Code of Practice in relation to seclusion and long-term segregation; and

"b) Improved equality training for staff.

"Walsall Council, Walsall CCG and NHS England are also working together to ensure Bethany moves to a bespoke community placement, planning for which has started.

"All of the Defendants take the care of people with learning disabilities very seriously and NHS England is currently finalising a review of Bethany’s care to look at what went wrong and what needs to happen to improve care for people with autistic spectrum disorder. This review will be submitted to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care shortly."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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