Although I am not a Christian, at Christmas I do think the most important ‘festive’ sentiment is encapsulated in the idea of sharing ‘good will’, and doing so with family, with friends and more generally with all our fellow citizens.
The idea of sharing ‘good will’ in both thought and deed is surely a social good that we can all agree on; finding ways of generously ‘being with’ someone in a humane and positive manner being the best gift we can give and receive.
However, such generalised ‘good will’ can seem starkly absent in some people’s lives – and I was reminded of this fact a couple of days ago by an article on the BBC News website. The piece concerned an autistic man called Tony Hickmott who has been detained in special hospital care for more than 20 years. One of the support workers at the hospital where Tony has been detained said he was the “loneliest man in the hospital“.
Tony is not alone in his detention, and there are currently 2,070 other patients held in hospitals and other secure settings across England; some 100 of whom have been detained (without committing any crime) for more than 20 years. This is a scandal, and one that before my retirement from the NHS I had personal experience of – so none of this comes as any surprise.
According to the brave whistle-blowing staff member (Phil Devine) Tony spent all of his time in segregation, and only his basic needs were met: ‘Almost like an animal, he was fed, watered and cleaned. If anything happened beyond that, wonderful, but if it didn’t, then it was still okay‘ – again, from personal experience, none of this comes as any surprise to me.
The privately-run, ‘for profit’ hospital [I use that word ‘hospital’ here with some misgivings] where Tony is detained has recently been put in special measures because of ‘high levels of restraint and overuse of medication, a lack of qualified and competent staff’ – you’ve guessed it; from personal experience, no surprises there either!
After the Winterbourne View scandal (over a decade ago!) the patients of such special hospitals were all supposed to have been rehoused back into community accommodation closer to their loved ones ‘as quickly as possible, and no later than 1 June 2014’. Yes, 2014!
The government enquiry into the scandal (published in 2012) also found:
- Patients stayed at Winterbourne View for too long, and were too far from home
- There was an extremely high rate of ‘physical intervention’ i.e. restraint
- There was clear management failure at the hospital, allowing a ‘closed and punitive’ culture to develop
- There were substandard recruitment processes and limited staff training
As one of the respondents to the enquiry said: ‘We should no more tolerate people being placed in inappropriate care settings than we would people receiving the wrong cancer treatment.’
But is it really any better now? – certainly not for Tony, and many others like him.
So I ask, in 2022, where is Tony’s ‘good will’ going to come from?
Tony Hickmott: Autistic man was ‘loneliest man in the hospital’ at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-59733934?fbclid=IwAR0l567WJD94UscwEgT8Vwz51i–wI9z0iq3H838aiixXgE-Mm0sj_E1zgg