Private Sussex hospital Priory Ticehurst put East Anglia teenager in a room with disturbing messages from former patients
PUBLISHED: 08:40 03 February 2017 | UPDATED: 09:11 03 February 2017
A 16-year old has described her stay in a private hospital where former teenage patients had left messages encouraging self-harm and assault on her room’s wall.
Her room was completely bare - containing nothing but a sheetless bed and a window.
She sat on the bed, mentally ill, knowing she could not leave, and that her family were more than 150 miles away.
Scrawled on the walls around her were messages from the room’s previous occupants: “Cut me open and I shall keep bleeding” and “Kill Brooke - slash her like a twig”.
This was the reality in which Rebecca found herself. She was a frightened 16-year old mental health patient sent away from her home county because of a lack of facilities there.
“It was awful,” said Rebecca.
“You don’t put someone who has been suicidal in a room like that.”
Rebecca - not her real name - comes from a small town near the Norfolk/Suffolk border.
Her mental health started to worsen around three years ago, possibly because she began putting pressure on herself at school, her parents believe.
She began to self-harm at the age of 13, and her concerned parents took her to their GP - but Rebecca wouldn’t talk about it.
It was an event which occurred every six months or so, coinciding with her failure to get the grades she wanted.
The seriousness of her condition increased last November, when - as a 16-year old - she took two overdoses.
After being admitted to a unit in the region, Rebecca continued to struggle with her illness and in December she was detained under Section 2 of the mental health act.
She was sent to The Priory Hospital, Ticehurst, near Royal Tunbridge Wells, in East Sussex, a private hospital that takes the most seriously ill patients.
Her parents, dismayed at the distance between Ticehurst and East Anglia, were told it was the closest available inpatient facility at the time.
Life at Ticehurst
The private hospital has been rated ‘good’ by the health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, for its under-18s mental health services, but Rebecca was exposed to serious failings.
As the pictures we publish today show, she was put in a room where distressing messages scrawled on the wall by former patients had not been removed.
She claimed staff who were meant to be observing her sometimes smoked or used their mobile phones.
Rebecca said the hospital offered no organised activities short of films, drawing, or attending - if a patient was well enough - school classes taught for three hours every weekday.
“There was nothing that went on during the day apart from the classes,” she said.
“It’s not therapy. There was nothing to do.
“One night I was being watched by one person in the doorway who was vaping and texting on her phone.
“I had to sleep on a plastic mattress without a sheet which was very uncomfortable.”
She also described long waits to see her doctor and problems accessing a telephone to talk to her parents.
Timothy Walker, the hospital’s director, said they are investigating why Rebecca was placed in a room where distressing messages were scrawled on the walls.
“Demand for our services is high and the patient was admitted to the only room available,” he said.
“This room is now being redecorated.”
Rebecca spent nearly five weeks at Ticehurst. She is now being treated in a private hospital in East Anglia - much closer to home.
NHS England aware of the messages on the walls
A spokesman for NHS England, which was responsible for Rebecca’s care, said it was “made aware of writing found at Priory Ticehurst” by a community care co-ordinator.
The organisation “immediately made contact with the unit”.
“We have seen a copy of the complaint to Ticehurst and welcome their investigation into the concerns raised,” the spokesman said.
“We encourage all our providers to make their units as child friendly as risk will allow and to ensure appropriate cleaning schedules are followed.”
NHS England chiefs are carrying out a national review of the number of inpatient beds for child and adolescent mental health services.
It is looking at the number of beds against local need and demand, and the geographical distribution of beds.
“Our aim is to prevent the amount of time young people spend in hospital and eliminate inappropriate out of area placements.”
This newspaper reported this last August and asked NHS England when the review is likely to be completed, but a date is not yet known.
The Care Quality Commission said it was aware of the complaint about the messages on the wall.
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