Ten people with learning difficulties or autism died in safe hospitals last year, according to data obtained from Sky News.
This follows a previous investigation which showed that 40 people had died in these specialized units between 2015 and 2018.
Michael and Christine Rowsell of Gosport are calling for action to address these failures after the death of their 43-year-old son Jason Thomson. He had been trapped in one of the safe hospitals for eight years.
On December 31, 2017, Jason, who had learning difficulties and difficulty speaking, stuck a small button battery in his nose. Despite notifying Cedar House hospital staff in Kent, it took two days for him to be sent for emergency treatment.
Jason died just over a week later from complications after surgery to remove the battery. Her parents are asking that the health secretary ensure better support for people with learning difficulties in the community.
Michael Rowsell told Sky News: “The death toll in treatment is appalling. If the government doesn’t sit down and take note, what are they getting paid for?
“We in the field can only highlight the problems.
“And if we don’t highlight them, nothing will be done.
“I want to meet the health minister, have a face to face and get answers.”
Jason was 22 when he left the family home near Portsmouth, wishing to become more independent. He went to the care of local authorities and his parents believe that his mental and physical health has started to deteriorate.
Rowsell said, “We have never had a problem with him. This is what we cannot understand. Most of his actions have been learned by other people. When he was with us he was adorable and no problem.
“It was a huge shock to see how it changed. What we couldn’t do was bring him home as with all these learned behaviors that we couldn’t manage. We were there for him but nothing worked.”
His parents said he raised concerns about his weight gain, his medications and that he was depressed. They have been ignored.
“I couldn’t have screamed or shouted louder,” said Rowsell. “When you talk to so-called professionals, it was like talking to a brick wall: they know it better.”
A spokesman for the County Council of Hampshire, in charge of assisting the Jason community, said: “We once again offer our sincere condolences to Mr. Thomson’s family. When a person has complex mental health needs, find the right support in the community can be a challenge.
“We continue to work closely with our NHS partners to improve the help available across the county.”
SSN representatives met the Rowsells. A spokesman for NHS England said: “We can confirm that in all cases the appropriate processes have been followed to ensure that local services make the necessary improvements to care.”
There are currently 2,190 people with learning or autism disabilities in safe units in England and more than 200 are under the age of 18.
People should be admitted to the Assessment and Treatment Units (ATU) for nine to 18 months and the government’s policy is to transfer them to community care.
But SSN data show that around 800 people have been held in these units for more than five years and 350 have remained for 10 years or more.
Sir Stephen Bubb, a charity chief who wrote two key reviews on the government’s progress on the ATU, said the lack of action is shocking.
He said: “It is a continuing scandal. There is a constant overuse of moderation, therapy and isolation and this has been going on for years. I would have hoped that by now we would have a secretary of state who said enough enough, we had enough reviews.
“I have no doubt that the way we treat people with learning disabilities in institutions is leading to their death. The fact that there have been 10 more deaths and nobody is up to the problem and says we will solve it is the shocking thing for me. “
The Department of Health and Social Care told Sky News: “We are determined to reduce the number of people with autism or learning difficulties in mental health hospitals. Significant investments in community support have already led to a reduction in the 23% and we are determined to go further.
In response to the death toll in the ATU, an SSN spokesman said: “We can confirm that the appropriate processes have been followed to ensure that local services make the necessary improvements to the care and that we will meet the Rowsell spouses in the new year to hear their concerns and see what we can learn more. “
A spokesman for the Huntercombe group, who runs the hospital where Jason was detained, said: “Jason Thomson’s death in January 2018 was an immensely sad event and our thoughts are with his relatives and friends.
“Since the tragic death of Mr. Thomson, we have taken extensive measures, based on our investigative efforts, to mitigate the risks posed by button batteries. We remain fully committed to improving our practices.”