My Twitter feed this week has been filled with discussions of the BBC Panorama programme ‘the Hospital Abuse Scandal’. I don’t really want to go into details of the programme but I do want to just add my two pennies-worth if I may.
I would firstly like to state that I would never compare what I have been through to the horrendous torture shown in this documentary. However, I can admit to the many parities I have come to witness throughout my time with mental health services.
I also hope it’s ok for me to assume that this programme is hardly a shock to anyone who themselves has had treatment for mental illness in the UK. Unfortunately most of us have ourselves been subject to illegal and degrading practice by mental health professionals to differing levels.
Abuse is rife in mental health environments and for a number of days after a documentary such as this one comes out, there is shock by the general public about what is happening. Many people want to make changes and start campaigns against such abuse. However within a few days, something else turns up on the news and these well-meaning people lose the momentum. Those campaigns are left half-finished and people move on to the next scandal. Not everyone however can just move on.
Those people filmed in the documentary will not move on. And those who, like me, have connected to the documentary on a very deep level will not be able to forgive and forget. For those who have suffered such abuse, they are dealing with a life sentence and it’s why I feel it’s so important I write this.
Even prior to the programme, there have been various debates on how it could be possible to make wards safer. One such discussion has been whether staff should wear body cameras. I don’t think so. The use of Close Circute Television (CCTV) is meant to protect patients and staff alike, yet when something goes wrong and a patient makes a complaint, CCTV isn’t clear enough, or has been conveniently wiped. How will body cameras differ?
I’ll let you into a secret – I think I know what needs to change. It’s actually quite simple. How about the Nurses, Doctors, Healthcare Assistance and other members of staff who are paid to care for their patients actually look after their patients as per their contractual obligations?!
This takes me back to the first complaint I made when I was hospitalised in 2015 in Chase Farm, Enfield. I had been admitted to the ward as I was unsafe due to suicidal ideation. Yet this was the first of many times that I was left to feel unsafe in this so called ‘place of safety’.
It was my third night on the ward and I was in my bedroom very distressed and left alone for at least 3 hours. It appeared that there had been some miscommunication between the day staff and the night staff where the latter were not informed that I had come back from my afternoon appointment. They therefore did not know that I was on the ward.
After eventually texting my Mum to tell her how I was feeling, she called the ward, who denied my being there. She finally convinced them to check properly. 3 or 4 staff members came in and I heard one of them say ‘that f***ing b**** is going to get us into trouble’. They then walked out. Not only did they ignore my distress, but they swore about me in front of me.
How did I not see at that point what was to come?!
As part of my complaint regarding my treatment throughout my time on that ward, I explained what had happened on that night. The response I received was that my version of events could not be reconciled with the staff’s version. Well there’s a surprise! Surprisingly they didn’t write in their notes that they hadn’t noticed I wasn’t on the ward for 3+ hours and that they swore at me. So my words meant nothing at all.
And this is how we (the patient) start to get broken down. We try to tell people there are things going wrong and nobody listens. We tell the people we are meant to turn to in these situations and we are quietened, told that it will be looked into. Yet when all is said and done, that ward was where I lost the old Rivkah.
The same staff illegally took my phone away from me the night my grandmother died because it was ‘causing me too much distress’. I was trying to speak to by family who were all together mourning the loss of our last grandparent. All I remember from that night was K (abuser) sitting and talking to me. He got me the bandage I needed. He gave me the time to talk and so I trusted him.
The same staff who swore at me for being distressed in my room, continued to ignore me throughout my stay on the ward and eventually allowed another member of staff to sexually assault me in my bed. In my eyes, they were complicit in the crime he committed, yet they have been allowed to continue to work with vulnerable patients.
And the saddest thing? When I was called up in court to the witness box and swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth? I agreed with the defence barrister when he asked me if K was a good member of staff. I actually stated that K was the best member of staff on that ward. I said that the bar was so low, that the person who sexually assaulted me was the only member of staff I could turn to and felt understood me.
And then people question how ‘these things are allowed to happen’.
It starts at the top. Bad management and bad leadership leads to general apathy. It leads to staff lying to patient’s families, to Doctors laughing at patients in distress. It leads to abuse whether it be physical or emotional and will inevitably lead to criminal behaviour.
When will managers and directors wake up and see what is happening every day on their wards?
What is currently getting to me is that at the same time as I see Tweets about neglect and trauma from patients being kept on these awful wards, I see management of my local trust having lunches together, having team away days building Lego and ‘Learning from each other’. I can promise you now – learning from each other is one thing that is not needed.
Staff need to start listening to their patients and spend time with them. They need to stop side-stepping the reality of abuse and illegality and attack the problems face-on.
I’d like to see CEO’s spending a week on an acute ward. I’d like staff nurses and ward managers to spend a day in the life of a patient on some random ward in another part of the country. Then, and only then, maybe there could be some improvements made.
If you work in mental health, I implore – listen to your patients. If something doesn’t look right or doesn’t sit well, REPORT IT. Don’t allow this pattern of abuse to continue and ruin more lives.
And for those talking out about what has happened to you – don’t let anyone get you down. Keep at it. We will get there x