UK Politics

‘I couldn’t have shouted louder’: Family seeks answers after death of son


Jason Thomson had a severe learning disability and died while detained in a secure hospital.

Jason, 43, was an inpatient for the last eight years of his life and his family believe he was let down by the system that was meant to take care of him.

Jason's family agreed to share their story as Sky News reveals that 10 people with learning disabilities or autism have died in secure hospitals in the past year.

A previous investigation showed 40 people had died in these specialist units between 2015 and 2018.

Jason Thomson was fostered by Michael and Christine Rowsell as a baby. He had a learning disability and struggled to speak.


Jason's family say he grew up as an active young man: he loved gardening and swimming, went on family holidays abroad and had a very happy childhood.

Image: Jason Thomson was fostered by Michael and Christine Rowsell as a baby

"They all said they could cope with Jason's needs"

At 22, Jason wanted independence. His family knew he wouldn't be able to live alone but believed with the right support he could live a happy and full life.

Mr and Mrs Rowsell asked their local council for help.

Mr Rowsell said: "They eventually found him a place and told us you've got to take it as there nothing else. If you don't take it, you lose it."

They were left with no choice but to take the offer. They met with the care home staff and tried to explain Jason's needs, but Mr Rowsell said they were met with: "Oh yeah we've done this before, we know".

That approach alarmed the couple. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in caring for those with learning disabilities or autism, who can have varying needs.

Jason's first placement broke down within weeks.

Mr Rowsell said: "Jason went to seven homes in total where, every time, they all said they could cope with Jason's needs."

Jason's family believe he began to "learn" certain behaviours during his long years in inappropriate care, such as self-harm and breaking windows.

Jason was also put on medication to help with a number of mental health conditions he was believed to have, including depression. It was medication the Rowsells said Jason never needed.

Mr Rowsell said: "From the time he went into care, we could see a deterioration in him physically and mentally."

Jason Thomson
Image: Jason's family would like to meet the health secretary
Jason Thomson
Image: At 22, Jason wanted independence so his parents asked the council for help

150 miles from home

Jason deteriorated so much that in February 2010 he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and sent to Cedar House, a private assessment and treatment unit (ATU) in Kent, run by The Huntercombe Group but paid for by the NHS.

The hospital was almost 150 miles from the family home in Gosport, but it was the closest 'specialist' provision.

An ATU is designed to assess and treat patients with learning disabilities or autism who may also have a mental health condition. The aim is to get people back into the community as soon as possible but the average stay is five-and-a-half years.

Mr Rowsell said: "The first thing we said when he got to Cedar House was, as he is now in a controlled environment, wean him off his drugs.

"Get him to a base level and find out who Jason really is. He had side effects from the medication with weight gain and sweating.

"He became lethargic, he became wheezy, all due to weight. This went on for eight years, and his health deteriorated."

Jason Thomson
Image: Ten people with learning disabilities or autism have died in secure hospitals in the past year
Jason Thomson
Image: Jason first told a support worker he had put something up his nose

"It's unintentional neglect – not intentional"

Jason had a history of inserting objects up his nose and a history of self-harm.

On the evening of 31 December 2017 Jason told a ward nurse he had put a battery up his nose.

The nurse contacted the on-call doctor who told them Jason should go to hospital immediately. Damage from any battery that is ingested into the body could be fatal.

Jason was not taken to hospital until 2 January, two days after he first alerted staff.

He needed surgery under general anaesthetic to remove the button battery, which was the size of a 10p piece.

However, in the days after the surgery, Jason suffered complications and went into cardiac arrest. This caused a brain injury from which he never recovered. He died on 9 January 2018 with his family by his bed.

At Jason's inquest it was unclear whether damage from the battery being in his nose for that length of time had contributed to his death.

However, the inquest did conclude that the delay in taking Jason to hospital and allowing him access to batteries contributed to the events that led to his death.

Mr Rowsell said: "Had he got there earlier, there is a possibility they would have got the battery out of his nose at an early stage without an anaesthetic. Because he had a general anaesthetic there were complications, which could happen to anybody.

"It's unintentional neglect – not intentional. At the time we didn't think the staff would intentionally stop him going to hospital. I'm angry at the individuals for not taking it seriously."

Since Jason's death, Cedar House has assured the family they now have protocol which all staff follow if a battery is ingested.

Mr Rowsell says: "We know all these things have been taken care of and they are changing now, which is good, but why did it have to cost Jason his life?"

Jason Thomson
Image: Jason's first placement broke down within weeks
Jason Thomson
Image: It was unclear whether damage from the battery had contributed to Jason's death

"I couldn't have screamed or shouted louder"

Jason's parents want to know why his life ended in such a needless way and why he was placed in a unit away from his family for so long.

Mr Rowsell said: "Jason had very close ties to the family – this is what riles us the most.

"Here is an opportunity to use the family to help him, but they stick him in Kent.

"All because they are quite willing to pay a private firm to accommodate the 'problem people' and not put money in counties where care should be.

"You always think back: What could I have done? You are thinking: Are we to blame for this?

"I couldn't have screamed or shouted louder."

Jason is one of 50 people with a learning disability or autism who have died in these secure units since 2015, Sky News has learnt.

Mr Rowsell said: "We on the ground can only do so much and highlight the problems. I'd really like to meet the health minister. A face to face with him. Get answers from him."

The Rowsells met NHS representatives earlier this week to share their concerns.

Jason Thomson
Image: Jason's family say he grew up as an active young man and loved swimming

The hospital

The Huntercombe Group, which runs Cedar House, told Sky News: "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.

"Cedar House cares for individuals with multiple and highly complex needs and our highest priority will always be the health, safety and well-being of the people in our care."

Jason Thomson
Image: Jason Thomson had a severe learning disability

The council

Hampshire County Council, who oversaw Jason's care in the community, said: "When a person has complex needs, finding the right support in the community can be challenging, and regrettably the arrangements that are made can sometimes break down. On these occasions, we reassess the person's care in order to find the best alternative provision.

"We continue to work closely with our NHS partners to improve the help available across the county for those with complex mental health needs – this includes a specific focus on the provision of skilled support in the community."

Jason Thomson
Image: Jason was an inpatient for the last eight years of his life

NHS England

Regarding the 50 people who have died, NHS England said: "We can confirm that in all cases the appropriate processes have been followed to ensure local services make the necessary improvements to care."

Jason's final days:

31 December 2017

7.30pm – Jason tells a support worker he has put something up his nose. He tells a senior nurse that it was a battery.

8pm – The nurse calls the clinician in charge of Jason's care who says he should be taken to hospital.

8.30pm – Night staff come on duty.

9pm – It is reported that Jason is aggressive towards staff while getting medication, leading to physical intervention.

1 January 2018

00.30am – Jason is reported to be sleeping.

8.30am – Day staff arrive and are told that Jason Read More – Source