The family of a severely-autistic woman have called for an urgent investigation after she was detained under mental health legislation and transferred away from her island home to a unit in the north of England.
Eilidh MacNeil (23), who suffers from a range of complex issues, spent her younger years at a specialist facility in Ayrshire and was said by her family to have “thrived” there. However, on turning 21, she was required to move home and the family worked with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s social work department to put in place suitable arrangements.
It took two years to find a solution and in May this year, Eilidh moved back to Stornoway, where she was housed in supervised accommodation with a young male who also suffers from autism.
Four complaints by the family over that accommodation provision were upheld by the Care Commission and, following an incident, the male was removed from the house to another unit. However, that sudden change in circumstance sparked an escalation in Eilidh’s behaviour and the family were informed by social work management that they were seeking an order under mental health legislation.
Eilidh had been housed on her own in the psychiatric ward in the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway but was flown to the mainland on Tuesday of this week as that ward faces closure. She is also on a daily course of benzodiazepine – despite never previously requiring any medication. Catherine Ann MacLeod, Eilidh’s aunt, said there had been a “mishandling” of her situation from the moment she was required to come back to the island.
“Eilidh is not psychotic,” said Ms MacLeod. “What she was displaying was traits of autism. The male was removed from the house all of a sudden and Eilidh is not able to process sudden changes without careful handling. That’s why she became more aggressive; she’s not able to express herself properly. It would never have happened had a proper care plan been in place.
“Whatever happens now, they’ve broken Eilidh – she’ll not be the same now. It’s broken my sister, too. I want the whole thing investigated by the proper authorities so this does not happen to another family.”
Miss MacLeod, who said the case was “a clear abuse of Eilidh’s human rights”, was not interested in any apology from the council. The case has been raised with local MSP Alasdair Allan.
He said: “I have met with Eilidh and her family. I am very concerned that they need to be reassured that there is accommodation for Eilidh long-term on the island, where she can be near her family.
“There is no doubt that the family have had reason to be anxious about this question and I hope that we will now see different agencies working together in the islands to find a solution. I continue to work with the family to raise a number of complaints which they have about the way they feel they have been treated this far.”
The islands currently face a major shortage of staff in the care sector, partly as a result of depopulation.
The comhairle denied that decisions over Eilidh’s care were in any way motivated by budgetary constraints. A spokesman said they were “unable to comment on individual cases”.
“As a general principle,” the spokesman added, “we are committed to supporting people with complex needs in their own communities but for a small number of people there are circumstances in which outcomes will improve if they are supported in specialist centres of excellence on the mainland. This is not a matter of a lack of financial resources but rather not having the required levels of specialist care and expertise.
“Whilst this is the case for many areas across Scotland it is clearly more acute in an island setting because it involves those requiring such care to live away from home for perhaps extended periods of time. It is also the case that implementing such measures and deciding when it is appropriate to repatriate service users is a matter of assessment and judgement.”
The spokesman added that they were currently “in the process of developing a new strategy on learning disabilities and autism and this will consider whether we have the right balance between local support and specialist mainland provision”.
By Murray MacLeod
Information on autism, as well as services and support, can be found on the Scottish Autism website