NHS cuts – a former Patients response

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Sending patients hundreds of miles away or to inappropriate placements…….that happened to me.

‘Cuts hit Mental Health patients’ was this weeks headline that caused a stir in my household, yet more proof that patients are being sent miles from home to get treatment. It’s not a new phenomenon it has happened for years it’s just now more and more people are being affected.

Personally I believe that the constant cuts in beds is making it more and more difficult to cope with the volume of people requiring admission. Now I cannot say if the number of people needing help is rising, but I do know that basic maths tell me if you keep making cuts yet have the same level of demand it’s going to end up creating a bed crisis.

The latest statistics quoted on the BBC news article state 3,000 patients were sent out of area for a bed last year is the right way to treat people, in my opinion the answer is a resounding NO! I was therefore surprised to hear Martin McShane from NHS England advocate on Radio 4 that it was ok for people to travel for treatment, I wonder if Mr McShane has been on the receiving end of an out of area placement.

I know the impact been sent hundreds of miles from home costs, the damage it does not just to the patient but the family too. I also know what it’s like to be placed in an inappropriate setting, on a ward totally unsuited to your needs and I can assure you it isn’t a positive experience.

In 2007 I was sent approximately 250 miles from my home to receive psychiatric care, this was a planned move by my team to move me out of county for trauma treatment, so no sudden rash decision. But I now realise finances played a big part in their decision making and it freed up an acute ward bed by moving me to a different service. I was moved 12 days before Christmas to a unit run by the private sector, it meant I was moved away from my three teenage children who in all truth desperately needed me their mum.

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The move impacted the whole family, it was impossible for them to visit me daily has they had been doing instead we were suddenly catapulted into a routine of monthly visits and in some cases less frequent ones. Each journey would take my children over 10 hours of travelling for approximately 2 hours of time spent with me. The cost was horrendously high and the financial burden was only partially covered by the hospital. The emotional cost and the time commitment needed by the family was totally ignored, no one seemed bothered my daughter had a nightmare of a journey starting at 7am and end at 8.30pm allowing for rest breaks on route.

The impact upon my relationship with my children was huge, I had no privacy to make phone calls and they were time limited too and cost was again a factor. I wasn’t able to share in key moments of my children’s life’s and I wasn’t able to attend events which I so wish I could. My youngest son celebrating when he got his college results, choosing his university, my daughter finding out she had graduated, their birthdays, christmas and so much more. All this would have been possible if I had been closer to home and yet was now impossible, it disenfranchised me from the family and from those I love.

My daughter would visit monthly without fail, she tried to call frequently but it was often impossible to get through on the ward telephone: I wasn’t allowed my own phone. it was her who took on the surrogate role of substitute mum to her siblings, she also graduated whilst I was away, she took care of the family home and dealt with her brothers issues as they arose. Both my sons would visit less frequent, one lived away at university and the other was initially at college then uni too, so they would see me every 2 -3 months. Calls were a couple of times a week but were brief and thus our relationships suffered, they did in all honesty deteriorate and have had to be rebuilt.

The impact upon me was horrible, I felt isolated, alone and empty, I felt a failure as a parent and out of touch with everything going on in their lives. I had limited support as a result of the distance and I no longer felt like a parent but I guess a stranger really invading their lives. In the whole time I was away nearly 18 months the PCT funded just 1 day visit home; well to the nearest mainline station town, as time didn’t allow me to actually go home. I met my family in a pub restaurant for lunch with no privacy, our visit lasted just a few hours.

The friendships I had were now by letter and not in person, though I will always be grateful to my friends who took the time to write. Distance was a huge issue and the cost was that some friendships were lost forever.

When I came back home I had to begin rebuilding the damage done by professionals deciding to send me away, learn to be a mum again to be involved in my children’s lives. They had to learn to accept me once again, my sons had to learn that they could turn to me and not there sister now. Initially it was tough and I took the role of friend rather than mum, I think that helped all of us but it really wasn’t easy. Yet it hurt so much when one day one of my sons told me he was getting his sister a Mother’s Day card because well in all truth she had been more of a mum than I was! He wasn’t been intentionally hurtful just truthful, I had missed out on key things in those recent years and she had taken on a role I could have carried on doing if I hadn’t been sent so far away.

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Does Martin McShane realise the damage his idea that sending patients away is acceptable, is doing to families, to patients, to relationships, I very much doubt it. If you were utilising specialist equipment I can see the point of regional central services, but this is mental health the services can be and should be delivered locally there is no excuse.

Inappropriate placements hurt too, I was once placed on an Alcohol and drug detox unit because they had no beds in a mental health ward. I wasn’t in need of a detox it wasn’t one of my issues, but they had a bed, no one else did so someone made a decision it would be ok. I felt punished, misunderstood and in more turmoil than when it was decided I need to go into hospital.
It was only for a couple of nights but it wasn’t right in fact it was wholly inappropriate, to hear such things still go is horrendous.

During one admission the acute ward I was on suddenly changed from being a female ward to a male overspill. Most females were moved to another already overcrowded female ward, but myself and initially one other patient were left behind. We were placed in the HDU (High Dependency Unit) of the ward; behind locked doors at night, as it was deemed essential by management. I spent from July to November in that male ward, I became the only female there and I did have to spend time with the male patients. I had to mix with them if I wanted a drink, or food or to collect medication, if I wanted to enter or exit the ward or see nursing staff. I had to encounter male patients in acute psychiatric need, It wasn’t easy and looking back I realise how vulnerable I was in that place. If beds and staffing had been available to accommodate me on a female ward it would in hindsight have been much better and safer.

The reduction of beds in mental health services can only create more patients in need being placed in inappropriate settings, or being located far from home, this has to stop. It’s time services were properly funded and adequate bed numbers maintained, it’s time people like Martin McShane and Norman Lamb realised the damage being done by cuts in bed numbers. I hear all the talk and I wonder will this situation ever change, I hope so, because until it does vulnerable people at times of crisis are being treated intolerably and sadly I know the impact that has.

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Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

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