A mother is distraught and begging for something to be done after she says her daughter, who is on the autism spectrum and has mental health issues, was treated in a “barbaric and inhumane” manner at the “prison-like environment” of an NHS hospital.
Benji O’Reilly, a former nurse who is now an NHS healthcare planning worker, says that restraining or secluding a patient because of their mental health issues is uncalled for and should be banned. She believes the same actions taken by hospital staff against her teenage daughter would be considered “criminal” in the outside world.
O’Reilly gave her testimony in front of Members of Parliament recently at the Health and Social Care Select Committee’s hearing into the treatment of autistic people and individuals with learning disabilities. She hoped to encourage them to work on a change to the law that would keep people from being treated how her daughter was treated.
When O’Reilly’s daughter was last admitted to the hospital last October, O’Reilly says she had to wait in the emergency department for 30 hours before being transferred to an infant unit. There, “she was kept in a tiny box-sized bland side room for four weeks with no fresh air, no exercise, no stimulation, no activities, not able to see friends, family, pets, and unsurprisingly, she had a huge meltdown and started displaying some [of] what is seen as challenging behaviour.”
The teenage girl has since been transported to a hospital further away from her home, where she has no access to a phone and isn’t able to see her family or friends very often. She currently has no estimated discharge date.
On one occasion, O’Reilly remembers, her daughter was particularly distressed, to the point where staff decided she was unfit for visitors that day. The young girl does not deal well with changes to plan and had been expecting and looking forward to being able to see her mother that day. She screamed and cried when they wouldn’t allow O’Reilly into the room and was subsequently restrained. O’Reilly could do nothing about it.
“If five men pinned a scared 14-year-old child face-first to the ground and injured them in the process, that would be seen as a criminal offense in the outside world, but that happens in an inpatient unit,” says O’Reilly. “She has been treated like a criminal at times, she has often asked why she’s being punished.”
The distraught mother says she feels “desperately let down by the NHS,” and she believes the current system is “broken, barbaric, and inhumane.”
“It feels like our lives have been totally torn apart,” says O’Reilly. “Our family has been destroyed. It feels like we’re never going to get our daughter back. Our experience is that there is no support for people who stay in the community. There’s no choice. You have no voice, no control over anything.”
We can only hope the Members of Parliament are empathetic toward O’Reilly’s daughter’s plight, as well as the plight of others, and that changes are made that can help keep other people with mental issues and disabilities from being treated with unnecessary force. O’Reilly also hopes to spread autism awareness among hospital staff so they can stop punishing behaviors they deem inappropriate that are actually just signals that an autistic person is in distress.
The safety of staff and other patients in a hospital environment is important, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to treat any patient without dignity and respect. We hope some significant changes can be made in this situation.