Monday, 7 August 2017

Trapped by the Mental Health System

Recent news relating to the mental health provision has been bad. Because of shortcomings in social support provisions some mentally ill people have been trapped in mental hospitals for as much as three years despite the fact that they could be discharged back into the community once suitable accommodation has been found. The fact that they are trapped in this was will not only demoralise the patients, but also the staff who want them to be able to life a more satisfactory life, and also the bed-blocking means that places are not available for others that need them.

In addition staff are demoralised by lack of pay and other negative factors affecting the way that the NHS is being run and how the mental health area often appears to be at the bottom of the pile. As a result recent news also revealed that there is a very large number of unfilled posts, putting more strain on the staff who continue to work in the mental health field. European workers in the NHS will have seen their pay fall compared with their home country as the effects of Brexit start to become apparent and the "We hate foreigners" feeling underlying the policy of a so-called Christian Prime Minister will discourage others to come to work in the NHS in future. Of course the Government has responded with a long term promise to train more mental health staff - which will not help the rapidly deteriorating current situation - and I suspect that like most such promises in the past this will involve some form of robbing Peter to pay Paul

However what really made me feel ill was the Judge going public about a seriously mentally ill young lady, who was kept in a strip cell because she might use any furnishings to kill herself, and for whom no place for proper treatment could be found.

This links to my logo - as such cases are nothing new - and when I was drawing up my logo I had vivid memories of my daughter Lucy in a cell in the "Muppet House" in Holloway Prison - the "hell hole"where all the desperately mentally ill prisoners were held. In effect what happened to Lucy caused me to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder - and abandon my University Research.

Lucy's case was in 1984 and while the situation improved somewhat after that date it seems we have gone back to the bad old days. In a period of two weeks three cases appear before the courts at Aylesbury. "Tina" was first and she had been held in the Muppet House at Holloway on remand for setting fire to the quilt on her bed. While in prison she had attempted to put her eyes out. She had been held in prison, because according to the NHS, she was not mentally ill and the fact that the quilt was on a bed in a ward of the mental hospital where she was a patient was irrelevant.

Less than a week later the same court dealt with "Wendy" who had set fire to a litter bin in Aylesbury and was only in Aylesbury because the NHS had stopped paying the bill for her bed in a private mental hospital. As the NHS and Social Services refused to provide facilities for what was obviously a seriously disturbed young lady, and she was not safe to roam the streets the Judge had a problem - and as in the recent case went public. He sentenced "Wendy" to life imprisonment and told her  barrister that he expected his decision to be taken to the Court of Appeal. The case hit the national headlines, as the judge intended. The Court of Appeal heard the case and told the NHS it should not use prisons as a dumping ground for expensive patients, and "Wendy" ended up in a secure mental hospital far more disturbed than she had been before she had been put in Holloway.

Lucy's case first appeared at the lower Magistrates Court in Aylesbury in between "Tina" and "Wendy"'s cases appearing in the Crown Court. She had been an inpatient in the same hospital as "Tina" but came home as an out-patient. After a few weeks she went hyper and before we could alert the hospital and get her readmitted she attacked a taxi driver and ended up in Aylesbury Police Station. The police described her to me as "as nutty as a fruit cake" but the doctor they called (from the hospital?) to assess her decided she was not mentally ill and she ended up on remand in the Muppet House in Holloway Prison, in the cell next to "Wendy" where she rapidly more disturbed, Eventually the NHS came up with a hospital bed for her, unsurprisingly just a few days after the Court of Appeal verdict had criticised the de facto but unpublished NHS policy,

Having been involved on the charity side of mental health, at both local and national level, I know the staff are very hard working and are feeling betrayed by one government after another, It is horrifying to find that the "unspoken" NHS policy of using prisons as dumping grounds because there are insufficient funds to support an adequate service is still in place. Those in the service realise what is happening are bullied into not whistleblowing at ALL levels. A few years ago I was talking to the chair of an already very efficient Mental Health Trust. They had to make 5% "Efficiency Savings" a year and if they did this by reducing services they were forbidden by NHS HQ from saying they were reducing the service - it was just efficiency.

For more on what happened to Lucy and the Muppet House see LUCY.

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