Fed boiling water, missing family visits and restrained – teenager’s anorexia nightmare

Mellie Plummer. Picture: Victoria Pertusa

Mellie Plummer. Picture: Victoria Pertusa - Credit: Archant

Boiling water mistakenly pumped into her stomach, missing out on visits with family, and being restrained by six people - that is how a Norfolk teenager has described the care she received while being treated for anorexia out of the county.

Mellie Plummer is an 18 year old from Brundall who was admitted to an Eating Disorder Unit in 2015.

Mellie Plummer is an 18 year old from Brundall who was admitted to an Eating Disorder Unit in 2015. She is now fully recovered and wants to share her story. Picture: Victoria Pertusa - Credit: Archant

Mellie Plummer, 18, now feels she had always had disordered thinking around food. But it was in 2012 when she began to act on the thoughts in her head.

She said: "At the time I didn't realise I was doing it, nor did I realise it was creating a problem. I began to cut out lunches at school, make sure that I walked the long way home, and slip my dinner to the dog when no one was watching. I thought that my actions were helping me stay in control."

After that, she deteriorated quickly and soon her parents took her to see her GP and she was referred to the child and adolescent eating disorder team, where she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

Miss Plummer, who lives in Brundall with her mother Catherine, father John, and sister Esther, tried to take her own life and was admitted to a psychiatric unit in Lowestoft.

Mellie Plummer, pictured with her mother Caroline while in hospital. Photo: Mellie Plummer

Mellie Plummer, pictured with her mother Caroline while in hospital. Photo: Mellie Plummer - Credit: Mellie Plummer

She said: "The next four months became extremely ugly with anorexia becoming louder and stronger every day. I was admitted into the Norfolk and Norwich with self injury again; only this time it was very different.

"When I arrived at A&E it was apparent that the eating disorder was damaging me more than self-harm ever could. I stayed for several weeks bed bound and tube fed until my physical health was stable enough to again be transferred to a psychiatric hospital."

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Miss Plummer, who also has two brothers Joey and Billy, was transferred to Rhodes Farm, in North London, in July 2015. At the time this was run by Partnerships in Care, but in March the facility changed hands, and location, and was renamed Rhodes Wood. Miss Plummer moved with them.

She was discharged in July 2016 but it was in these hospitals Miss Plummer said she was subject to treatment that "wouldn't be wished upon your worst enemy".

The facilities involved were approached for comment but despite Miss Plummer giving them permission to discuss her care, both said they could not comment due to patient confidentially.

A spokesman for Elysium Healthcare, which runs Rhodes Wood in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, said: "At Elysium Healthcare the safety and wellbeing of our patients is our priority.

"For reasons of patient confidentiality, we are not able to comment on individuals in our care, nor those who have received care and treatment with us in the past. However, we do take any complaint very seriously and we have robust policies and procedures in place for investigating these and are always ready to look into any matters raised through these channels."

Miss Plummer did complain to the Care Quality Commission (CQC), who confirmed she had been in touch. Her complaint is ongoing.

Miss Plummer said: "I know that I was very unwell during my admission to Rhodes, but that doesn't make me incapable of understanding what is wrong."

Miss Plummer said for much of her stay she was fed via a nasogastric tube, but staff often forgot.

She claimed: "I was given a feed two or three times a day; during these feeds I was restrained by up to six staff members. Whilst I am aware that many of these times I did need safe holding, I don't believe I needed it when proving that I would comply."

She said: "I experienced many issues regarding tube feeding; right from not measuring the feed to syringing boiling water directly to my stomach. I remember crying in pain."

She also said understaffing was the norm, and by the time she left Rhodes Wood there was no dietician, occupational therapist, permanent psychiatrist and "an extreme shortage of nursing staff".

Miss Plummer said this meant shifts were filled using agency staff. She claimed: "Obviously this had an impact - care plans were not known, risks were not known and medication was not known."

Or it meant there were not enough staff to keep Miss Plummer on one-to-one supervision, so she was kept in her room for what she said was months at a time.

She said: "On a few occasions staff members had fallen asleep, leaving their keys out in my room and desperate to escape I took advantage of this. Despite being on one-to-one I had also stashed medication, drank dangerous liquids, self-harmed and tied ligatures whilst having being able to lock myself in the bathroom."

She said: "I felt horrendous during this admission. I was shouted at, spoken unkindly about by workers, zombified on medication, and most upsetting I often had to cope without the support from my family."

Miss Plummer said at Rhodes Wood, each patient had a 10-minute phone call with their family every week day, but as hers was at 6.30pm she was often having feeds so could not attend.

Visits were also allowed from parents at the weekend, but Miss Plummer said: "If I had not finished a meal quick enough on the day of a visit my parents - who had travelled three hours - would have to go home without seeing me. Luckily I have an amazing family and my mum would often refuse to leave until she got to see me."

Miss Plummer said her parents fought for a year to have her transferred closer to home, and eventually she was able to move back to a unit in Lowestoft, while she submitted complaints to the Care Quality Commission.

But she believes: "Undoubtedly my recovery was hindered. After the transfer I remained unwell with anorexia, however was managing to avoid being sent back to Rhodes Wood."

Miss Plummer relapsed for a third time, and she was in and out of the NNUH.

"I had four admissions onto a ward in an attempt to stabilise my health," she said. "However none were effective.

"By the time the last admission came around I was severely and critically ill. My body was under so much strain to stay alive that I began to lose sight and hearing.

"The hospital couldn't provide the high level of support I needed and so a bed at a specialist eating disorder unit was located."

This time, however, she was admitted to the Phoenix Centre in Cambridge, where she stayed for 10 months, and flourished.

She said: "I learnt to listen to me and ignore the anorexia. It wasn't easy, it was far from that, but the staff were amazing. My care here was individualised, staffing levels were appropriate ,and I was allowed as much contact with my family as I wanted."

Miss Plummer was discharged from the unit at the end of 2017, and her recovery has continued with nearly two years of maintaining her health. Now she feels strong enough to speak out about her care.

She said: "I hope that every inpatient psychiatric unit can take inspiration from The Phoenix Centre."