An Islington woman is working with Mencap and the National Autistic Society to end the wrongful detention of disabled people under the Mental Health Act before the next general election.
Leo Andrade, 59, lives in Islington and is mother to Stephen, 28, who is severely autistic and has a learning disability.
Stephen was sectioned under the act in 2013.
He was expected to be admitted for 28 days, but spent the next six years in hospital, over 80 miles away from his family.
For two years Stephen lived at St Andrews mental health hospital, Northampton, which was rated as ‘requires improvement’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) earlier this year.
The hospital had been visited in June 2022, but the CQC said it had received “information of concern” which led to the unannounced inspection in February.
“Leaving him there seven days a week without me was just horrible.
“I was worried sick about my innocent son,” Leo explained.
She recalls arriving to find Stephen filthy and distressed and once took him outside to wash under a tree.
“How undignified is that? How inhumane is that?
“To think that in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, I was washing my son under a tree, in the middle of winter.”
Stephen was next moved to the Oaktree Manor in Clacton, Essex, where he lived for four years.
“He didn’t smile for two years.
“I finally saw him smile, about seven months after he arrived at the hospital in Clacton.
“When I saw him smile, I burst into tears,” Andrande said.
Andrade explained that because Stephen doesn’t have a mental health condition, he should never have been detained in a mental health hospital.
“What my son desperately needed was the right environment and support to help him to be happy and enjoy his life in his community.
“He was failed by the system,” she said.
Andrade blames spending cuts, understaffing and poor training for what happened to Stephen.
“It’s easier to section people rather than provide them with the specific and appropriate care that they need,” she explained.
More than 2,000 autistic people and people with learning disabilities are living in mental health hospitals in the UK, 92% of them are held under the Mental Health Act.
The government published its draft Mental Health Bill last year which included changes to laws which define autism and learning disabilities as mental health conditions.
Graph: authors own
Mencap and the National Autistic Society warn that if the bill isn’t introduced soon, these changes will not become law before the next election.
The National Autistic Society has found that the proportion of autistic people in mental health hospitals has almost doubled, from 35% in 2015 to 65% today.
St Andrews responded to North West Londoner’s request for comment, saying “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that people living with learning disabilities and autism are able to live and thrive in the community and not be treated in an inpatient setting.”
See here, for more information about the Mencap and NAS campaign.
Image credits: Mencap, Leo Andrade