Five new secure units for autistic patients set to open despite pledge to close them

Published by The Mail on Sunday (3rd February, 2019)

A private health company is opening five secure units to lock up people with autism and learning disabilities – in the face of Government pledges to close down such centres amid concerns over abuse.

Elysium Healthcare, which is backed by a private equity group based in low-tax Luxembourg, has begun advertising for staff at ‘brand new, purpose-built’ units for people with learning disabilities. 

‘This is incredibly disappointing to see,’ said Julie Newcombe, whose autistic son was held for almost two years against her wishes. The development highlights how keen private operators are to chase annual fees of up to £730,000 per patient from the NHS.

The Mail on Sunday has revealed how people with autism and learning disabilities are locked up for years in secretive units, held in solitary cells, fed through hatches, forcibly injected with powerful drugs and violently restrained. 

The exposures have sparked four inquiries in England. Now the Scottish Government has launched its own probe after this newspaper found autistic people being locked up alongside murderers in maximum security Carstairs State Hospital in South Lanarkshire.

The Conservative Disability Group (CDG), an alliance of party members promoting inclusion of people with disabilities, has also raised alarm. It is writing to Health Secretary Matt Hancock urging him to cut the number of people with autism and learning disabilities in secure units.

Elysium Healthcare, which launched in 2016, operates at 55 UK locations and has spoken about ‘delivering growth’.

It earned £53.6 million in its first year of operation, largely from the NHS. Leigh Allen, the firm’s nurse development lead and a former prison nurse, posted advertisements online last month seeking staff for five new secure units.

The healthcare firm is backed by BC Partners, a private equity group that also invests in bridal wear, pet shops and restaurants.

‘Elysium and its private equity backers wouldn’t be investing in these units if it thought the Government was genuinely committed to getting people out of inpatient hospitals,’ said Mark Brown, spokesman for the Rightful Lives campaign group.

Elysium declined to comment. An NHS spokesman insisted it was committed to reducing numbers of people with learning disability or autism in hospital.

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