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Family of autistic man plan legal challenge over care conditions | Social care

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The family of an autistic man confined to an apartment and fed through a hatch are planning a legal challenge against his conditions, in a case that will increase pressure on the government to end the practice of keeping people with severe learning disabilities in “modern-day asylums”.

Nicola, whose 24-year-old son has been detained under the Mental Health Act since September 2017 at Cheadle Royal hospital in Cheshire, said his care is “worse than being in prison” and “people wouldn’t treat an animal” as badly.

She has appointed lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to explore a legal challenge to his circumstances which include constant monitoring by CCTV and outdoor access into a fenced-off garden at the facility which is run by the private Priory Group.

“We fully appreciate that my son has complex needs but he’s being treated terribly,” she said. “He’s locked away from the world and has no physical contact with anyone.”

He also has a learning disability and Tourette syndrome and has been treated for aggression and anxiety. “I can’t even hold his hand or hug him because of the conditions he’s kept in,” his mother said. “Every time I see him it breaks my heart. He has no quality of life, he just exists.”

Campaigners are calling for greater efforts to provide care in the community for people like Nicola’s son and say about 2,000 people are held in such “assessment and treatment units (ATUs)” in hospitals, with about half of them having been there for at least two years. The placements are expensive partly because they require so many staff.

Mencap, a learning disability charity, said many of the people in inpatient units ended up there because of the lack of funding for social care and not because they have a genuine need for inpatient mental health care.

“The government ​must treat this scandal with the urgency that’s needed,” said Dan Scorer, head of policy at the charity. He said ministers had “broken promise after promise to ​close beds and support people in the ​community”.

The standard of some care homes for people with learning disabilities is also under growing scrutiny. In October, the Guardian revealed how conditions at Berkeley House, a care home in Kent run by a private chain, Achieve Together, declined so badly families were given less than a day’s notice of its closure.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission found residents “living in inhumane conditions”, according to a recently completed inspection report. There was no toilet roll and “faeces was found on two people’s bedding, pillows and another person’s chair”.

One resident had no bedding at all and staff had damaged residents’ furniture. Inspectors “observed a staff member pushing and forcing a person to sit in their wheelchair against their will” and others using derogatory language. There were not enough qualified staff, one bedroom stank of urine and safeguarding incidents went unreported.

“Staff spoke with people in a harsh tone and were focused on tasks rather than engaging with people to meet their emotional needs,” the inspectors reported, before labelling the facility “inadequate” and triggering its closure.

A spokesperson for Achieve Together, which is ultimately owned by an international investment fund, said: “We unreservedly apologise for the unacceptable shortcomings … We are clear that the provision fell way below the high standards that the people we support rightly expect and deserve, and that we know we can provide.”

The cases come a decade after the Winterbourne View scandal, in which BBC Panorama exposed the abuse of people with learning disabilities in a private hospital in Gloucestershire.

Kirsty Stuart, a public law and human rights lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Nicola and her son, known as patient A, said she was now representing 25 other families whose loved ones are in ATUs.

“They feel they have no option but to seek legal advice in order for their loved ones to receive the care they deserve,” she said. “We call on the Priory, the CCG and local authority to work with ourselves and Patient A’s family to reach an agreement over his care, which the family believe should be in the community as this would give him the best quality of life.”

Liverpool city council said it could not comment on individual cases.

A spokesperson for the Priory Group said it was committed to “ensuring well-planned transfers to the most appropriate community settings whenever they become available” but said: “Some individuals with highly complex behaviours, and detained under the Mental Health Act, can be difficult to place despite all parties working very hard over a long period of time to find the right setting.” It said care was continually reviewed to ensure the “least restrictive setting possible”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “We are determined to continue reducing the number of autistic people and people with a learning disability in mental health hospitals as well as the reliance on inpatient care. That’s why we are investing in community services and supporting discharges with £90m of additional funding this financial year.”

NHS Liverpool clinical commissioning group has been contacted for comment.

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Solar storms may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in a given year

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In an approximate 11-year cycle, the sun blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field, which may disrupt our body clock and ultimately affect our heart



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17 June 2022

A solar storm

Jurik Peter/Shutterstock

Solar storms that disrupt Earth’s magnetic field may cause up to 5500 heart-related deaths in the US in a given year.

The sun goes through cycles of high and low activity that repeat approximately every 11 years. During periods of high activity, it blasts out charged particles and magnetised plasma that can distort Earth’s magnetic field.

These so-called solar storms can cause glitches in our power grids and bring down Earth-orbiting satellites. A handful of studies have also hinted that they increase the risk of …

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UK Covid infection rate rising, with more than a million cases in England | Coronavirus

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Coronavirus infections are rising in the UK, figures have revealed, with experts noting the increase is probably down to the more transmissible BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, reveal that in the week ending 11 June an estimated one in 50 people in the community in England are thought to have had Covid – around 1.13 million people.

The figure is even higher, at one in 45, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, while it was highest in Scotland where, in the week ending 10 June, one in 30 people are thought to have been infected.

While the figures remain below the peak levels of infection seen earlier this year, when around one in 13 people in England had Covid, the findings are a rise on the previous week where one in 70 people in England were thought to be infected. Furthermore, the data reveals increases in all regions of England, except the north-east, and across all age groups.

Experts say that a key factor in the increase is probably the rise of the Covid variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5.

“Infections have increased across all four UK nations, driven by rising numbers of people infected with the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants,” said Kara Steel, senior statistician for the Covid-19 Infection Survey.

While Steel said it remained too early to say if this was the start of another wave, others have warned it may already have begun, with increased mixing and travelling among other factors fuelling a rise in cases.

Among concerns scientists have raised are that BA.4, BA.5 and another variant on the rise, BA.2.12.1, replicate more efficiently in human lung cells than BA.2.

Prof Azra Ghani, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said the latest figures were not surprising, and might rise further.

“This increase in infection prevalence is likely due to the growth of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which as we have seen elsewhere in Europe, appear to be able to escape immunity generated from previous Omicron subvariants,” she said.

“It is therefore possible that we will continue to see some growth in infection prevalence in the coming weeks and consequently an increase in hospitalisations, although these subvariants do not currently appear to result in any significantly changed severity profile. This does however serve as a reminder that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over.”

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NHS to offer women in England drug that cuts recurrence of breast cancer | Breast cancer

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Thousands of women in England with breast cancer are to benefit from a new pill on the NHS which reduces the risk of the disease coming back.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has given the green light to abemaciclib, which cuts the chance of breast cancer returning after a patient has had surgery to remove a tumour.

Trials showed that patients who had the drug with hormone therapy had a more than 30% improved chance of their cancer not coming back after surgery, compared with hormone therapy alone.

“It’s fantastic thousands of women with this type of primary breast cancer will now have an additional treatment option available on the NHS to help further reduce the risk of the disease coming back,” said Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Now.

“The fear of breast cancer returning or spreading to other parts of their body and becoming incurable can cause considerable anxiety for so many women and their loved ones.

“New effective treatments such as abemaciclib, which can offer more women the chance to further reduce the risk of the disease recurring, are therefore extremely welcome and this is an important step change in the drug options available for this group of patients.”

The twice-a-day pill is suitable for women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, node-positive early breast cancer at high risk of recurrence who have had surgery. About 4,000 women will benefit initially, Nice said.

Helen Knight, the interim director of medicines evaluation at Nice, said the draft recommendation came less than a month after abemaciclib received its licence.

“The fact that we have been able to produce draft recommendations so quickly is testament to the success of our ambition to support patient access to clinically and cost effective treatments as early as possible,” said Knight. “Until now there have been no targeted treatments for people with this type of breast cancer.

“Abemaciclib with hormone therapy represents a significant improvement in how it is treated because being able to have a targeted treatment earlier after surgery will increase the chance of curing the disease and reduce the likelihood of developing incurable advanced disease.”

Abemaciclib works by targeting and inhibiting proteins in cancer cells which allow the cancer to divide and grow. It normally costs £2,950 for a packet of 56 150mg-tablets, but the manufacturer, Eli Lilly, has agreed an undisclosed discounted price for NHS England.

“Thanks in part to this latest deal struck by NHS England, NHS patients will be able to access another new targeted drug for a common and aggressive form of breast cancer,” said Prof Peter Johnson, the cancer director of NHS England.

“Abemaciclib, when used alongside a hormone therapy, offers a new, doubly targeted, treatment option, helping to increase the chances of beating the cancer for good, as well as meeting the NHS’s commitment to delivering improved cancer care under our long-term plan.”

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