Matt Hancock willing to meet parents of man who died in a secure hospital

Alan McGuinness, political reporter

The health secretary has said he is willing to meet the parents of a man who died following eight years in a secure hospital.

Matt Hancock was reacting to an investigation by Sky News which found 10 people with learning disabilities or autism have died in secure hospitals in the past year.

It followed a previous investigation that showed 40 people had died in these specialist units between 2015 and 2018.

Michael and Christine Rowsell, from Gosport, are calling for action to address these failings after their son Jason Thomson died aged 43.

On 31 December 2017, Jason, who had a learning disability and struggled to speak, stuck a small button battery up his nose.

Despite informing the hospital staff at Cedar House in Kent, it took two days before he was sent for emergency treatment.

Jason died just over a week later because of complications after the surgery to remove the battery.

His parents are calling for the health secretary to ensure there is better support for people with learning disabilities in the community.

A spokesperson for the Huntercombe Group, which runs the hospital where Jason was held, said: "The death of Jason Thomson in January 2018 was an immensely sad event and our thoughts are with his relatives and friends.

"Since Mr Thomson's tragic death we have taken extensive steps, based on our own investigation efforts, to mitigate the risks posed by button batteries. We remain fully committed to improving our practices."

Asked about the report during an interview on Sky's All Out Politics programme, Mr Hancock said: "These are often very complex cases.

"I'd be very happy to meet Jason's parents.

"I've met relatives of those who are in care and obviously some who are in care as well.

"I pay tribute to the way that Sky has really pushed this agenda and made sure that there's continued light on it."

There are currently 2,190 people with a learning disability or autism in secure units in England and more than 200 are under the age of 18.

People are supposed to be admitted to Assessment and Treatment Units for nine to 18 months, and government policy is to move them into community care.

But NHS figures show about 800 people have been held in these units for more than five years - and 350 have stayed for 10 years or more.

Mr Hancock said the number of people with learning disabilities and/or autism in care "has come down" in recent years.

He added: "I'm determined to bring it down further and we've got a programme of work under way.

"But each person to be taken out of those settings needs to have a full package of care around them. They're too vulnerable to simply be released.

"Shortly after I became health secretary, I said we needed to assess each and every case. That is happening, it's under way.

"As a result, some people have been able to be moved into community care.

"Some just aren't in a position to be able to do that. Some also have court orders to prevent that from happening.

"It's a complicated settlement."