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Ian Birrell

  • Award-winning columnist and foreign reporter. Contributing editor of The Mail on Sunday and weekly columnist in the 'i' paper. Writes regularly for many other papers, platforms and magazines. Frequent broadcaster and speaker at events. Co-founder wth Damon Albarn of the Africa Express music project and executive producer of 4 albums...Read more
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Hospital holds autistic man for 19 years – then gives him 20 days to go

Published by The Mail on Sunday (2nd June, 2019)

A man with autism held in a privately operated secure hospital for almost two decades has been given 20 days’ notice to leave after his family spoke about his case to The Mail on Sunday.

Pam Hickmott says she went to see her son Tony at Cedar House, a 40-bed unit near Canterbury, Kent, last Thursday only to be told that its owner the Huntercombe Group was ordering the NHS to find him a new home.

She claims the sole reason given was that Tony’s name had been reported in this newspaper ‘which was against his human rights’.

Our most recent mention of his case disclosed that the 42-year-old had been held in segregation for almost a decade.

‘It is just disgusting,’ said Pam, 75, a retired hospital supervisor from Brighton. ‘They have held my son for 19 years and now they are kicking him out because they are worried about their image.’

The firm later claimed the move was also down to Cedar House no longer being an appropriate placement. A source said the notice period was ‘negotiable.’

Tony’s case was highlighted in this paper’s campaign against abusive detention of people with autism and learning disabilities, which has exposed long-term use of solitary confinement, forced sedation and feeding of patients through hatches.

It is estimated his incarceration alone has cost taxpayers more than £10 million. Campaigners argue that supported care in the community can be cheaper, kinder and far more effective. His family is now considering legal action.

‘Giving 20 days’ notice is irresponsible and unreasonable,’ said the family’s barrister Oliver Lewis. ‘Huntercombe’s decision cannot possibly be in Tony’s best interests.’

Duncan Bell, a spokesman for Dimensions, which assists community placements, confirmed that moves out of treatment units need careful planning. ‘It can take up to 12 months to put the right arrangements in place,’ he said.

The Care Quality Commission watchdog has ordered an inquiry into this newspaper’s disclosure last week that one of its senior inspectors resigned after a highly critical report on 17-bed Whorlton Hall in Durham was not published.

Ten workers at the privately run unit were arrested after the BBC’s Panorama programme showed patients being mocked, intimidated and violently restrained.

Huntercombe said it could not comment on individual cases but added: ‘Our position has always been that people with a learning disability should only be in hospital when absolutely necessary.’

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