Appeal to spare autistic son, 24, more upheaval

Andrew Robinson

A COUPLE whose autistic son has lived in seven different care venues in 13 years are fighting to prevent him being moved to a hospital in Essex – 220 miles from their Leeds home.

David and Elaine Backhouse are in despair after social services announced plans to move their 24-year-old son Michael from a hospital in Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, to one near Colchester.

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It will mean a round trip drive of more than eight hours from their home in Bramley, Leeds.

Social services managers in Leeds say that the secure hospital facility at Thors Park, Thorrington, Essex, is a more suitable place for treatment and assessment because of its “proven track record”

In a letter to the couple, social services accepted that a move to Essex was not what they wanted and that the distance would incur expenses that would have to be agreed.

Michael’s parents say he wants to be closer to his family and that his behaviour improves with regular family contact.

In the long-term, the couple are hopeful that Michael can be cared for in a community setting, rather than being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which he has been for six years.

Mrs Backhouse said: “We have asked social services to move him to a place in Clitheroe, Lancashire which would be easier to visit than Essex.

“He has been in residential care since he was 11. If he moves again, it will be his eighth move in 13 years.”

The couple say the Clitheroe facility is willing to take him once a bed is available.

Mrs Backhouse said Michael had lived all over the country – in Wales, Preston, Ayrshire, a now-closed hospital near Ilkley, Lincolnshire and Darlington – with each move proving distressing.

The couple say that too many doctors have been involved and there does not seem to be continuity in the methods to improve his behaviour.

“We just want him settled really,” said Mrs Backhouse. “When he went to school in Scotland, his teacher said Michael was very homesick. Michael knew it was too far from home. He tells us that he wants to come back to Leeds to be near his family. He asks us about a place nearer to Leeds and about going out with us on our own. He reminisces about places we used to take him in Yorkshire.”

Independent experts have supported the family’s claim that Michael would benefit from being cared for outside a secure hospital setting.

One expert said: “This man presents a management need and risk profile that I feel is likely to be manageable in the community and which makes it difficult to argue that he has to be detained under the Act to be cared for safely.”

The family has now asked their MEP, Godfrey Bloom, to put pressure on the council over the Essex placement.

Mr Bloom said: “I would hope that a county the size of Yorkshire would have the facilities to look after one of its own.”

A spokeswoman for Leeds Council described Michael’s case as “extremely complex”.

She said: “Mr Backhouse’s needs are the most important consideration but these needs are very specialist as he has been detained under the Mental Health Act. Across the country there are only limited facilities which can meet these requirements.

“It has taken extensive research to find the right placement, which is in Essex, and this has been agreed by the clinicians responsible for his care. Support has been offered to Mr Backhouse’s parents to ensure they can maintain contact with their son. This is an extremely complex case which has needed to be jointly agreed between adult social care, the Leeds Partnership Foundation Trust and NHS Leeds.”