Crisis mental health care in the NHS must improve

I was struck by a blog in my Facebook timeline this morning. It was actually written a year ago today by Becca Plenderleith, who joined the Lib Dems in the wake of the election last year. She’s already contributed so much to the Party, writing for our Scottish members’ newsletter, making thoughtful and insightful contributions on mental health – and she’s also written for LDV, too. We are very lucky to have her.

In the post she shared this morning, she shared her experience of what passes for mental health crisis care in Scotland – and it just simply is not good enough. The experience she had mirrors other people’s experiences. I have heard of Accident and Emergency doctors, who clearly have no training in mental health, berating a shut-down self-harming teenager and tell them that they are wasting their time.  In that example, when the Child and Adolescent Mental Health people got involved, things improved remarkably, but it should never have happened in the first place.

I am horrified that a young person in crisis could be treated in such a callous way. I’m quoting from Becca’s post here with her permission:

The paramedics were some of the most understanding people I’ve met in my life. Unfortunately, that’s where my positive experiences with the NHS emergency services regarding mental health stop. I won’t tell you how long I waited before I was seen because for I don’t know. I don’t remember. What I do remember is when I eventually got seen, my only feelings were that of “I wish I’d not phoned for help.” I wasn’t allowed my mother to stay with me in the room because the doctor wanted to ask me “sensitive” questions. Apparently that’s code for “I don’t want witnesses to hear what I’m about to say.” Because the doctor told me that I was a drain on the NHS and that I wasn’t an emergency and it clearly wasn’t an accident so I had no right to ring 999. All this before he looked at my arm. When he eventually looked at it he said, very condescendingly, “What do you expect me to do about this? Do you want a plaster?” By this time my mother (a nurse) was allowed back in the room and I remember her saying “Oh, that looks deep. It might need a paper stitch at least.”  I didn’t get that. I got a dressing and sent on my way with the most random pieces of advice I’ve ever been given in regards to my mental health and that was “Don’t drink caffeine after 12pm.” Thanks, doctor. I’m sure it’s the caffeine that made me want to cease to exist.

I’m not sure what the situation is in England, but I do know that Norman Lamb established a multi-agency crisis care concordat to ensure that people got the care that they needed when they needed it.

On a day when the Duchess of Cambridge is doing so much to tackle the stigma around mental health, in much the same way that her mother-n-law tackled the stigma around HIV and AIDS by visiting a ward and shaking hands with patients without wearing gloves, we should reflect on the many ways mental health services are failing our children.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings