A major UK disability charity has finally called on the Irish government to investigate a care organisation accused of breaching the human rights of a young disabled man.
The National Autistic Society (NAS) had come under increasing pressure to take action in the case of Anthony Kletzander, with a protest last week outside the charity’s annual awards ceremony in Harrogate.
Mark Lever, the charity’s chief executive, has now bowed to the pressure and told Kletzander’s mother Linda at a meeting the day after the protest that NAS would write to the Irish government to ask it to investigate the allegations.
Disabled activists in the UK, Ireland and across Europe have heavily criticised the Irish health service and care organisations for their treatment of Kletzander, and were furious at the failure of NAS to intervene.
They say Kletzander has been forced to live in an institution, placed on anti-psychotic medication – against his wishes – taken off his gluten-free and dairy-free diet, is not allowed to use a lightwriter to communicate, and has been forced to work on a farm.
He continues to be funded by the Irish government through the Health Service Executive (HSE), but has pleaded to be allowed to leave the Nua institution and return to live independently near his family.
Despite the concerns raised repeatedly about his treatment, NAS has continued to provide some of Nua’s institutions with accreditation under its international award scheme.
Details of the NAS accreditation were even sent to families with relatives in Nua institutions in Ireland, to reassure them about their standards of care, in the wake of a television expose of alleged abuse at a state-run care facility for adults with learning difficulties, in December 2014.
NAS has promised to suspend accreditation for any Nua services used by Kletzander if there is an inquiry into allegations of abuse.
Jamie Bolling, director of the European Network on Independent Living, said: “ENIL welcomes an independent investigation for Anthony Kletzander, which should have been done long ago.
“Anthony is not living a life with choice as per the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
“We know Ireland has as of yet not ratified the convention but Ireland is a member of the European Union, which has.
“Anthony’s communication is not being respected and this is a breach of human rights.”
Linda Kletzander, who travelled from Dublin to take part in last week’s protest, said the NAS move was a “very important shift in support towards our son”.
She said it was essential that the allegations should be “critically questioned by an independent body”, which should include someone with autism, who would “have an appreciation of the significance of diet, medication and communication for Anthony”.
She thanked the campaigners who took part in the protest, particularly Joe Whittaker, her son’s advocate, who has led the campaign.
She said: “For so long, institutions and professionals assume a position of all knowing about autism, and at the same time refuse or are unwilling to listen to the autistic person.
“This creates a climate for more abuse and damage to autistic people. It is a practice that has to stop and the approach has to be fundamentally changed.
“It is intolerable that a disabled person has to be subjected to such struggles to get what is accepted as a right for so many non-disabled people.”
Debbie Jolly, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which has supported Kletzander, said: “This is a positive outcome and shows the power of campaigning and protest.
“However, it does not immediately remove the unacceptable circumstances that Anthony and his family continue to endure.
“The campaign will continue until Anthony is returned from his enforced incarceration to the independent living that is his right.”
She also criticised the apparent silence of Irish organisations that “deem to call themselves independent living organisations”, and the “continued inexcusable actions of HSE, and others involved in this attempted destruction of a young man’s life”.
Carol Povey, director of the NAS’s Centre for Autism, who also attended the meeting with Linda Kletzander, said: “I have followed up our earlier communication with the Irish Health Service Executive by calling for an independent assessment of Anthony’s needs that should also constitute an enquiry looking at whether abuse has taken place in the past.
“If an enquiry into allegations of abuse takes place, we would suspend autism accreditation for those specific services involved in Anthony’s care, pending the outcome of the investigation, as accreditation relates to individual services, never to an entire organisation.
“We continue to stand ready to take any further steps that, in our judgement, would support dialogue between the parties involved and resolve the situation in Anthony’s best interest.”
A Nua spokeswoman said in a statement: “Nua Healthcare specialises in providing residential care, community outreach and day services to adults and children with complex support requirements.
“We provide care and services to a number of our residents on behalf of the HSE. Such arrangements are managed through service level agreements.
“While we cannot comment on individual cases, we can advise that each resident has a care plan that is agreed with, overseen and monitored by the HSE.
“The HSE is ultimately responsible for each resident’s care plan and ensuring it is appropriate to the needs of each resident.
“Like all disability residential care providers, we are subject to statutory regulations including inspection by the Health Information and Quality Authority against the national standards for residential services for children and adults with disabilities.”
HSE has so far failed to comment on the call for an independent investigation.