Out-of-area beds scandal: ‘The unit felt like a prison’

Picture posed by model. Picture: Newscast Online

Picture posed by model. Picture: Newscast Online - Credit: Newscast Online

Mental health patients in Norfolk and Suffolk are being sent to beds hundreds of miles away. Here, John from Norfolk, who recently spent ten days at a mental health facility in London, explains what the experience was like.

'I was admitted to accident and emergency at the NNUH on a Wednesday afternoon, following a suicide attempt. I regained consciousness the following day, having been transferred to the Acute Medical Unit, and it was quickly decided I needed to be admitted to a mental health ward.

'I had previously been on Glaven Ward at Hellesdon. At this point I was very woozy, suffering from a dangerously low mood, and angry that my suicide attempt had failed.

'I was at grave risk of making another attempt on my life. Throughout Thursday and Friday, efforts were being made to find a mental health bed. My parents were frantically trying to find out what was happening, as they were desperate for me to be looked after locally.

'For a time, we were told I would be going back to Glaven Ward at Hellesdon, but the news kept changing between there and a unit in London. I was expecting to go to Hellesdon on Friday morning, but we were then told later that day that I would be going to south London.


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'During the Friday, I twice walked off the ward and out of the hospital – without my absence being noticed – and went down to the Watton Road with the intention of walking in front of a bus or a lorry. The main reason that I didn't go through with it was because I did not want the vehicle to swerve into an oncoming car and cause death or injury to someone else.

'Meanwhile my parents resorted to contacting the crisis team as they could not get any information from the bed team. A member of the crisis team took responsibility for finding out what was happening and he was able to let me and my parents know that I would be transported to south London later that Friday evening.

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'Finally, after more uncertainty, two men arrived to take me to London. At 10pm, feeling suicidal, frightened and confused, I got into the back of a private ambulance (which was no more than a pretty austere minibus), and was driven away from the NNUH. Throughout the three-hour drive, I was spoken to just once by one of the two men, and felt more like a prisoner being transported, than a patient.

'At 1am, by now completely disorientated, we arrived at the front door of the mental health unit in south London. After lots of knocking at the door, someone answered, and I was handed over with a quick 'good luck'.

'I was booked in and shown to my room. I felt isolated and scared. My room was nice, but the unit felt like a prison.

'The internal doors were like cell doors, and there was a tiny outdoor area, fringed by a high fence with spikes on the top. It was a mixed ward, both in terms of sex and in terms of illness: people with depression and anxiety were alongside those with psychosis, personality disorders and acute problems.

'The following morning, I had a meeting with my named nurse. Extraordinarily, it was the only real conversation I had with him until I was discharged back to Norfolk 10 days later.

'The care was unacceptable. It felt as though I was being kept in a holding facility, and my mental health deteriorated, with my suicidal thoughts increasing. In stark contrast to Glaven at Hellesdon, the staff were holed up in an office with a heavy steel door that you couldn't see into. I was being checked up on every 15 minutes, as I was a suicide risk.

'But I rarely had a conversation with a member of staff. My parents came down from Norfolk twice to see me, and were horrified by what they encountered – both the level of care and my deterioration. They were constantly contacting Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust to try to get me moved back to Hellesdon.

'The stress made them both ill. Thankfully, their persistence paid off, and after 10 days, I was told that I was being recalled. I had a brief period of uncertainty, as I didn't know whether I would be going to Hellesdon, King's Lynn or Great Yarmouth.

'Eventually, I was told it would be Glaven at Hellesdon, and I got into a taxi with a member of staff and was driven from south London to Glaven Ward.

'When I arrived there, I cried, mainly through relief. I was greeted with compassion and understanding by the staff, and – after 10 wasted and expensive days – my recovery finally began.'

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