AN ELDERLY couple say their autistic son has been trapped in hospital for more than 20 years.

Tony Hickmott, from Brighton, has spent decades in a secure unit while his family battle to get him out.

His parents Roy, 81, and Pam, 78, want him to be looked after in the community with carers of his own.

However, attempts to move the 44-year-old have been unsuccessful and he remains in "out-of-town accommodation"

Roy and Pam are now able to speak about the frustrations for the first time after a gagging order was successfully overturned.

“He's spent half of his life in an institution,” Pam told Sky News. “It's ruined our lives. Absolutely ruined our lives, Tony's life.

"Tony deserves to come home because that's all he lives for."

Tony, who has autism and a learning disability, has also told his parents of his wish to leave hospital.

The Argus: Hospital

After all these years, Tony still talks about his home town.

Pam said: "It's all he knows. It's home isn't it. This is home. This is comfort. He loves the pier. We used to go on there and have fish and chips and candy floss.

“In the lovely summer evenings, we used to do a walk along the seafront."

Roy and Pam say that it has been eight years since they were first told that Tony could leave the hospital.

His father Roy said the most upsetting thing for him is sitting at the dinner table to enjoy a home cooked dinner knowing his son remains in hospital.

“I'd like to take my dinner down to him and give him it,” he said.

In 2018, Brighton and Hove City Council said they were working to get the care sorted for Tony "as soon as possible."

Since then, Tony's care has been subject to a Court of Protection case and reporting restrictions were imposed which prevented Tony and his parents discussing the case, which have since been lifted.

But Pam and Roy must drive more than 100 miles to visit their son – a trip they make weekly.

"Driving half way home I pull in and I'm sitting there crying,” Roy said. "I mean I hate to say it - I sit there crying. For all the misery it's caused. I just think of Tone sitting there on his own."

He added: "I just can't do another winter. I'm not coping. I've had it. I'm at the end."

A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman said they have tried numerous times in recent years to find Tony accommodation nearer to his home town.

“Unfortunately, these were not successful,” he said. “Tony has extremely complex needs. His current out-of-town accommodation is the nearest that offers the specialist care and the very high staffing ratios required to care for him and manage his needs.

“We are aware of the difficulties Tony’s parents have faced in seeing their son over the years and are very sympathetic to their situation.

“We are now working with Tony’s parents, NHS colleagues and a new housing provider and we are actively considering options over the coming months which will meet the needs of Tony and the wishes of his parents.”

A spokesman for NHS England in the South East said: "The NHS in the South East is continuing to work closely with Mr Hickmott, his family and the local commissioner involved in his care.

“Mr Hickmott has complex care needs with highly specialised support required to meet his needs and we continue to work with his parents and partner organisations to ensure the appropriate care and support is in place."

Tony isn't the only person with autism or a learning disability stuck in hospital.

At the end of October, there were 2,070 people with a learning disability or autism in specialist hospitals in England.

According to NHS figures, at least 810 of those people are ready for discharge.