You’re killing people: how I was carted out of county just for treatment

Columnist Steven Downes, who was sent out of county by the NSFT. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright:

Columnist Steven Downes, who was sent out of county by the NSFT. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2018 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Do you want to have blood on your hands?

Do you want to have blood on your hands?

That's the question I pose to the bosses of NSFT after hearing that in January 82 people enduring acute crises were sent like luggage to facilities many miles away from Norfolk and Suffolk.

I'm not being over-dramatic, for this really is a life-and-death issue - and the many and various people who have run the trust have had more than enough time to address it.

They have failed over and over again, and in that time I'm guessing thousands of people with severe depression and/or anxiety, who may have tried to take their own life, or maybe were going through psychotic episodes, have had their roots torn out by this inhumane practice.

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It's with a heavy heart (and some harrowing memories) that I admit that - for once - I know what I'm talking about.

In August 2015, less than 24 hours after a crisis, at 1am I was put in the back of a private ambulance (which was nothing more than a glorified minibus) and driven from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to a private hospital run by the Priory in South-West London.

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The driver and his colleague were more interested in watching a film on the dashboard than interacting with someone who was in a dangerously volatile mental state. I felt as though I was being taken to prison.

I was left standing in the dark outside the imposing building, ringing and ringing the bell until a surly member of staff ushered me through into a wing that had the heavy iron doors and barred windows of a prison.

And that is what it felt like to me. It was a soulless place with staff who seemed disinterested in the inmates - to the point that for two days, the only human contact I had was a 'carer' peeping through my door curtain every 30 minutes to check I was alive. No conversation, nothing.

In the 10 days there, my named carer spoke to me maybe three or four times.

Not only was I in the midst of a mental breakdown that had separated me from hope, joy, appetite and energy, I was also a five-hour drive from my parents and children.

Our loved ones can be the key to getting us out of the cycle of despair, so how the Hell can anyone make a decision to send a seriously ill patient out of their reach?

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Mum and Dad were frantic with worry, and managed to get down to see me from Norfolk two or three times. They also - with the help of Norman Lamb, who went above and beyond - managed after 10 days to get me transferred to Hellesdon Hospital. It was in the back of a taxi this time, driven by a silent and sinister man who probably has a collection of stuffed animals.

Arriving at Hellesdon, where I was greeted warmly by kind-hearted staff who put the Priory carers to shame, was the beginning of my recovery.

But being sent out of county could so easily have been the end of my life.

The same goes for every person who is a victim of this scandalous practice, which NSFT bosses have promised for five years that they will eradicate.

I don't doubt that people have died as a result of being sent out of county. Others will have had their recovery severely compromised.

It is a demeaning, dehumanising and downright terrifying thing to do to a vulnerable person.

Shame on you, NSFT. Shame on you for doing it at all, but most of all for breaking promises so often.

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