Save Calderstones Hospital from closure! Turn it into a specialist autism medical centre!
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Calderstones Hospital, more recently known as Specialist Learning Disability Division at Mersey Care Whalley, is threatened with closure. At present, Calderstones is a secure facility in Lancashire for people with learning disabilities and autism.
While our charity does not in any way support long-term hospital care for people with learning disabilities, we feel it would be a waste of resources to close the site down. In view of the massive increase in the rate of autism in recent years, we would like to see Calderstones converted into a specialist centre dedicated to the investigation and treatment of the medical conditions associated with autism. To date, there is no such facility in the United Kingdom.
Research shows that there are a large number of medical conditions, such as seizure disorders, acid reflux or migraines, which are far more common in autism than in the general population. However, these conditions may be difficult to diagnose in people with autism, especially those who are non-verbal. People with severe autism may express pain in an atypical way, for example, through aggression or self-injury. Our charity has received numerous reports of such symptoms being attributed, without investigation, to 'autism behaviours'.
The consequences can be devastating.
For example, children later found to have painful—but treatable—acid reflux have been prescribed antipsychotic medication, which is totally inappropriate, and has serious potential side-effects. And who knows how many families have taken the agonising decision to put their child into residential care due to behaviours that may have been caused by treatable medical conditions?
The human cost of such needless suffering is incalculable.
What is more, some of the medical conditions associated with autism can be life-shortening. Shockingly, the average life expectancy for a person with severe autism is only 39.5 years. When professionals dismiss symptoms of medical issues as 'autism behaviours', they are failing this vulnerable group of people.
In light of the statistics, this failure could, in some cases, prove to be a death sentence.
It is for these reasons that we call for Calderstones Hospital to be converted into the first national specialist centre for comorbid medical conditions associated with autism. Given the diversity of such conditions, the centre could bring together specialists in gastroenterology, immunology, neurology, allergies, errors of metabolism, mitochondrial disorders and endocrinology to assess and prescribe treatment for children and adults on the basis of the underlying medical causes of their behavioural symptoms. This could potentially improve the quality of life of thousands of people with autism, and would establish the site as a world class centre of excellence for autism-related medical conditions.
Autism has recently been shown to cost the country a staggering £32 billion per year, more than cancer, heart disease and stroke combined.
These costs are likely to rise even higher in the future, due to the skyrocketing autism rates. Much of the economic impact arises from the cost of the high level of care required by many adults and children with challenging behaviours. This means that there is scope for enormous savings to be made by providing appropriate treatment which could potentially reduce some of the most disabling and difficult to manage symptoms associated with autism. We believe that, in the long run, these savings would easily cover the cost of setting up and running the specialist autism centre.
It is time for people with autism to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve, and to be provided with the timely and appropriate medical treatment to which they are entitled. A specialist centre at the Calderstones Hospital site would be an important first step towards this goal.
Medical Comorbidities in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 2014 https://issuu.com/treatingautism/docs/medical_comorbidities_in_autism_spectrum_disorders
Health and service provision for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2016 http://treatingautism.org.uk/new-report-health-and-service-provision-for-people-with-autism-spectrum-diso/
Autism is the most costly medical condition in the UK, 2014 http://www.lse.ac.uk/website-archive/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2014/06/Autism.aspx
Hirvikoski T, Mittendorfer-Rutz E, Boman M, et al. (2016) Premature mortality in autism spectrum disorder. Br J Psychiatry. Mar;208(3):232-8. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.114.160192.
Schendel DE, Overgaard M, Christensen J, et al. (2016) Association of Psychiatric and Neurologic Comorbidity With Mortality Among Persons With Autism Spectrum Disorder in a Danish Population. JAMA Pediatr. Mar;170(3):243-50. doi: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015. 3935.
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