Court appeal over autistic teen ‘detained’ for 50 days in emergency bed

Lawyer says 17-year-old suffering marked deterioration, seeks alternative placement

Counsel said  the girl is ‘de facto detained’ in her room and this isolation is feeding into a ‘downward spiral’  where she is now refusing to engage with other people. Photograph: iStock

Counsel said the girl is ‘de facto detained’ in her room and this isolation is feeding into a ‘downward spiral’ where she is now refusing to engage with other people. Photograph: iStock

 

The parents of a teenage girl with autism who has spent 50 days in an emergency hospital bed have asked the High Court to make orders requiring that she be provided with a more appropriate placement.

Ciaran Craven SC, instructed by KOD Lyons solicitors, for the parents, said the 17-year-old has been in the hospital since she was removed from a relief centre in August.

She has complex needs and behavioural issues and the parents cannot take her home due to risks to her own safety and the safety of other family members, he said.

Mr Craven said he was seeking declarations to vindicate and protect the girl’s constitutional rights which, he said, are being interfered with at present. Her parents are very concerned that there is an ongoing regression in her condition due to the inappropriateness of her current setting, counsel said.

Mr Craven said the Health Service Executive (HSE) must provide her with a step-down placement pending a long-term autism-specific residency. It is “unconscionable” that the girl would be left in hospital for the 12 to 16 weeks it will take the HSE to arrange a more permanent solution, he said.

“We are talking about leaving a 17-year-old in an emergency department room at Christmas time,” Mr Craven said, noting that coronavirus is present in Irish hospitals.

Bleak

Mr Craven read from a recent report from an independent medical assessor who said the girl’s current situation was “remarkable in its bleakness” and “detrimental to her welfare and health”.

Professional supports have “disintegrated” since her admission, while her mental health is deteriorating, counsel said.

Given this, it would be “overly generous” to call the temporary circumstances a “sticking plaster on a fracture”.

Mr Craven said the girl is “de facto detained” in her room and this isolation is feeding into a “downward spiral” where she is now refusing to engage with other people.

In recent days, a television and wifi have been installed in her room, but she is still without access to an appropriate education or peers, the court heard. The evidence depicts a “fairly hollow existence for a 17-year-old who hasn’t breathed fresh air in seven weeks”.

The matter relates to the provision of disability and personal social services, which fall under the remit of the HSE under the Health Act 2007, Mr Craven argued.

Although it may be the HSE’s case that Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, is the responsible authority, due to the girl being a minor, Mr Craven said he does not believe there “can be any reasonable doubt” the HSE is the body charged with a statutory duty to provide her with this service.

The case, which has yet to hear from lawyers for the HSE and Tusla, continues on Friday.