Fauzia Hussain (Photo: Channel 4)
Fauzia Hussain (Photo: Channel 4)

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The horror of how a 15-year-old girl with autism was let down by a UK hospital

Helen Nianias talks to Fauzia Hussain’s family about Fauzia’s 22 months at St Andrew’s, where she was isolated and treated like a prisoner

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By Helen Nianias on

In tonight’s often upsetting episode of Channel 4 Dispatches, there’s a moment when everything just relaxes. Fauzia Hussain, a 19-year-old with autism and Tourette’s syndrome who has had a difficult and distressing time in a psychiatric hospital, asks her aunt to play Otis Redding, Sitting On The Dock of The Bay.

She breaks into a huge smile, looking out of the window and glowing with happiness. It’s taken Fauzia and her family a lot of work to get to a point where they can spend time just relaxing together like this – finding uncomplicated joy in a song.

Until September 2014, Fauzia was a resident of St Andrew’s in Northampton, a hospital which specialises in psychiatric care. The way her family talks about her time there makes Fauzia sounds like more of a prisoner than a resident.

Fauzia was 15 when she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sent to the hospital, and reports show that she was regularly restrained, medicated with intra-muscular injections, and biting the skin off her hands so badly that staff at the hospital bizarrely decided she had to wear boxing gloves 

She spent 22 months in St Andrew’s. Because she was so distressed, she was almost immediately placed in seclusion away from the other patients, in a room with little natural light. This was how she spent most of her stay in hospital between the ages of 15 and 17 – away from other people.

Sounds and smells have a profound impact on her, which made the experience all the more distressing. “The noise next to her was too loud,” says Shahana Hussain, Fauzia’s aunt. “It was an emotionally abusive situation to be in all that time.” When Fauzia didn’t want to go back to her room, her younger sisters, now aged 16 and 13, recall that she would be dragged there. MP Norman Lamb became involved and Fauzia allowed him to talk with her in her room for an hour. He has subsequently said that what he saw in the hospital was “one of the most shocking things I’ve seen in my time in Parliament”.

In response to the Channel 4 documentary, St Andrew’s says: “The safety and wellbeing of all our patients… is paramount…including protecting patient confidentiality…which means that while we strongly refute the allegations made … as false and misleading we are unable to comment further.”

A technique called prone restraint – or face-down restraint – is widely used across all wards at St Andrew’s, including in the children’s ward, where Fauzia was staying

A Care Quality Commission inspection published in September 2016 found that a technique called prone restraint – or face-down restraint – is widely used across all wards at St Andrew’s, including in the children’s ward, where Fauzia was staying. Staff say that they only use restraint as a last resort. The CQC finds that the hospital “overall requires improvement”.

Shahana is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and worked hard to help get her niece out of St Andrew’s. “After a year I nearly gave up, it was really grim,” she tells The Pool. Shahana had worried that Fauzia would die there.

On the programme, when St Andrews is mentioned in front of her, Fauzia immediately says “I’m not going back there ever again”, and when she says it, she speaks with such force that it comes out as one word: “Imnotgoingbackthereeveragain”.

Since leaving the hospital, Fauzia has moved into a residential care home in Alderwood, where she receives good care. However, Shahana has to tell Fauzia’s life story back to her as if it were a fairy tale. It helps Fauzia feel safe. Fauzia was five when she was diagnosed with autism and a learning difficulty, and her behaviour will always be challenging. She can become incredibly anxious, freeze up, and lash out – harming herself and others. But she can also experience satisfaction, joy, she finds things funny and loves her family, with whom she now has a good relationship. She comes home once a month to see them, and they go and visit her in Alderwood.

“They said she was too dangerous to mix with her peers at St Andrew’s, but then the first week after she’d left she was walking a dog in her new place,” says Shahana. This is something she would never have been able to do at the hospital. “What I would like people to understand is that the right care is not rocket science, it’s just the right understanding and hard work. Even with people who look the most challenging on paper.”

Shahana says that what some of the patients experience at St Andrew’s is an indication of a broken system. Ninety-five per cent of the hospital’s funding comes from the NHS, and it is often the only place that will take patients with the most challenging needs. “St Andrew’s is shocking, but what are we going to do about the system that allows it? Why is at Andrews not being held accountable by NHS England?”

Other than the music of Otis Redding, Fauzia loves a variety of things. Grooming a pony called Daisy at a local stable is one of them, baking cakes is another, and then there’s going for Indian food, doing exercise.

Redding once sang “try a little tenderness,” and with the right kind of care and the love and support of her family it seems that tenderness will been the making of Fauzia.

Dispatches: Under Lock and Key is on Channel 4 tonight, Wednesday March 1, at 10pm

@helennianias

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Fauzia Hussain (Photo: Channel 4)
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