Autistic teenager to be moved to specialist facility after online campaign


An autistic teenager will be moved to a specialist facility after more than 150,000 people backed a petition by his parents to end his six-month "jail sentence" in a psychiatric ward.

Matthew Garnett, 15, was sectioned under the Mental Health Act to a psychiatric intensive care unit - usually for short-term emergency admissions - in September last year after attacking members of his family.

NHS England has confirmed the teenager will now be moved to St Andrew's Healthcare in Northampton, which specialises in treating patients with autism, within weeks.

His father Robin Garnett, 48, welcomed the move but said the family wanted to see "words become actions".

His son's stay at the NHS ward, in Woking, Surrey, was expected to be temporary but six months later, Matthew is still "languishing" in the unit, which Mr Garnett said even staff accept is "not the right place for him".

As for the teenager himself, Mr Garnett said: "He thinks he's in prison and he is being punished for attacking us."

Matthew's move has been held up as other patients await transfers out of the specialist facility.

His mother Isabelle, 47, said her son, who has ADHD and learning difficulties, also has "complex and yet unassessed mental health difficulties" that needed investigation.

Writing on petition website, Mrs Garnett said: "For the last six months, he has been denied this, trapped, alone, in a place unequipped to look after him.

"We were told this was temporary and that within six weeks he would receive an autism-specific assessment, treatment and care. Half a year later he has not been moved. What I was promised would be a six week pit stop has become a six month jail sentence."

She added because her son had mental health problems rather than a physical illness, she felt his case had been "swept under the carpet".

Matthew was sectioned, with the family's agreement, after his violent outbursts "escalated in severity" until, on September 4, police were called following an attack on his father.

Mr Garnett told the Press Association: "He's never been able to control his emotions - he's kind of like a toddler.

"The police were amazing. We called them three or four times and they have always been uniformly brilliant, recognising it's a mental health issue not a criminal thing.

"We were desperate he did not get taken into some hideous criminal process but it was clearly not safe for him to be in the house with his family - we were not offered any other route to go."

The couple, from south London, petitioned Alistair Burt, minister for community and social care, and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and launched a social media campaign using the hashtag makeroomformatthew.

The response had been "overwhelming and humbling", Mr Garnett, who works for the Discovery Network, said.

The family hope he will one day be able to return home and receive treatment in the community but Mr Garnett said he feared it was "just the start" and there were hundreds more families going through similar experiences.

A spokesman for NHS England said: "We have every sympathy for Matthew and his family and we understand that this has been a very difficult time.

"It has been confirmed that Matthew will be moved to St Andrew's, where he will be able to receive the specialist care that he needs. We anticipate that this will happen in a matter of weeks but cannot confirm an admission date at this point."