Complaint letter: NHS neglect in treating my psychiatric illness

Complaint regarding poor treatment received in A&E and EAU.
Dear [hospital director],

I am writing to complain about the neglectful treatment I received at the [hospital] recently, and the disrespect and disregard that were shown to me by the hospital’s staff. I believe that the way I was treated was in contravention of one of the guiding principles of the NHS; ‘provision of high quality care that is safe, effective and focused on patient experience’. I have 6 key complaints, which I will describe in more detail below.
• I suffer from major depression. My regular medications; Sertraline, Mirtazipine, Pregabalin and Lorazepam were withheld from me for over 24 hours, creating unnecessary anxiety and exacerbating my symptoms.
• I was treated as though my being in hospital was my own fault and therefore I did not deserve to be cared for. There was only one single member of staff who showed me compassion, something that is supposedly enshrined in the values of the NHS.
• There was no attention paid to my mental health. No psychological assessment or risk assessment, or informal enquiry about my state of mind were made.
• My wife was forced to leave the ward, while relatives of other patients were allowed to remain all day. This discriminated either against my sexuality or my mental illness.
• The details of my mental illness and history were spoken about publicly with no regard for confidentiality or my dignity.
• I was threatened with being sectioned, even though this would have been hugely disproportionate to the risk I posed to myself. The staff used this threat to bully and intimidate me, knowing it could not have come to pass.

On [date] I took myself to the A&E department at the [hospital] after taking an overdose of Paracetamol. I was quickly admitted and blood tests were taken within an hour. I saw a doctor who said that the amount I had taken would unlikely do me any harm. Soon after, a nurse came and told me that my blood tests were clear and I could go home.

When I returned home, the same doctor called me to tell me that he was wrong about my blood test results and I needed to come in as soon as possible for treatment. When I arrived back at A&E, the department had lost my notes, so there was a delay in anyone seeing me. After about an hour, I saw a different doctor, who informed me that it was best practice to treat all patients who take a ‘staggered’ overdose of Paracetamol (i.e. small quantities repeatedly over a period of time). He recommended I was placed on IV treatment as soon as possible. I was alarmed that the first doctor I saw hadn’t taken this course of action immediately.

I was admitted and given a bed on the Emergency Assessment Unit. Nobody asked how I was, nobody enquired after my mental well-being and I did not have any type of psychological assessment. I asked to have my regular medication; antidepressants and mood stabilisers that also act against my anxiety, flashbacks and dissociative episodes. I was told I couldn’t have any such medication until I had seen a doctor in the morning. Furthermore, nobody sought to make sure I was safe with my possessions – I had a lot of pills in my bag that I could have taken had I still been feeling unstable. Previous hospitals have always enquired about this to ensure my safety.

My night on the EAU was horrendous. The nurse working on the ward had no regard for any of the patients, she was uncaring and rude. I am unable to include her name here, as she was from an agency and her name badge was not legible.

One of the beds was broken, therefore an alarm was sounding about every 20 minutes. After a while, the nurse stopped bothering to go and switch it off. I was awake all night because of the noise and because I felt very panicked. I eventually went to the nurses station at about 4am to say I was feeling panicky and short of breath and I hadn’t had any of my usual medications to control this. The 3 or 4 members of staff barely acknowledged my presence. I asked if there was a room I could sit in to read or watch TV as the ward was triggering my anxiety and they said no. They were not at all concerned about how I was and they showed no compassion.

When I did eventually fall asleep, around 6am, the ward nurse woke me up by shining a light in my eyes and telling me she had to take blood. Again, there was no gentleness or kindness. A doctor came to see me in the morning and said I could have my medications and they would be ‘written up’ for me. I was told I would have a meeting with the ‘psychiatric liaison’ later in the day and this had been requested. I was not given any psychological assessment, the doctor didn’t enquire how I was.

My wife arrived at around 9am to bring me some toiletries and breakfast. I felt comforted that she was there and managed to go to sleep for a short while. The ward nurse [name] then came and told her she had to leave in order to protect the other patients’ confidentiality. I could understand if this was a general rule, but the patient opposite me had her husband with her at that time and all day and he was not asked to leave. This nurse was either discriminating against me because of my sexuality or because I had taken an overdose. Either way, this was completely unacceptable and made me feel worse.

There was an incredible HCA on the ward called [name]. She was the only member of staff who showed me any compassion and actually asked how I was doing. She worked extremely hard and was warm and gentle with everybody on the ward and had a huge amount of patience. She should be commended for this outstanding effort. [name] was not as professional. I repeatedly asked for my medication, which didn’t appear. I also repeatedly asked to know the results from the morning blood tests and nobody would tell me.

The cannula in my left arm had been in for around 10 hours when it started causing me pain. I asked [name] repeatedly if she could put it in my other arm. Eventually, she attempted to insert a new needle in the back of my right hand. She missed the vein and caught a nerve, which was very painful. She said she would put a new one higher up my right arm later on in the day. I asked again on a number of occasions and was told it would be better if it stayed where it was, even though that was painful.

When the staff changed over, things got even worse. The agency nurse who took over was abusive to the elderly lady, [name] in the bed beside me. She dropped her while assisting her with using the commode and then shouted at her and told her it was her own fault. This was utterly disgraceful and quite heart-breaking to hear. I was, by this point completely exhausted and feeling unsafe being on the ward in this woman’s care. I was desperate for my drip to finish so I could go home and the ordeal would be over.

When my IV was finished, a different nurse came to take more blood. I told her I didn’t want another blood test, I had finished my treatment and I wanted to go home. I made this request very calmly and rationally, explaining that my complete exhaustion and sleep deprivation were the things most detrimental to my mental well-being at that point. She told me that I couldn’t go home until the blood tests had been completed and a psychological assessment had been done. She couldn’t say when this would happen, but suggested it might happen the following day.

I went on to explain that I wasn’t a risk, I had taken a small overdose and asked for help – it couldn’t be construed as a suicide attempt. Even if it were, in the 27 hours I had been in hospital, nobody had enquired about my state of mind. I had complied with treatment, was already known to the CMHT and my therapist had even been to visit me on the ward that day. My wife was with me and could confirm she was happy for me to go home in her care.

This nurse then got emotional, storming out of my cubicle saying ‘I can’t deal with this, not today’. She returned with a doctor, who threatened that if I left the hospital he would be sending the police to bring me back. He would not listen to my arguments, or those of my wife. He hadn’t read any of my notes and wasn’t willing to talk to my therapist or my psychiatrist if I could get them on the phone. This whole discussion took place in the middle of the ward, which was utterly humiliating. I felt completely mortified that everyone on the ward heard about my mental health problems and my previous suicide attempt. It was so disrespectful that I wasn’t offered the chance to have this conversation in private, even though I requested this.

Of all the horrendous treatment I experienced during this ordeal, being threatened and intimidated by the staff was the worst. The doctor used sectioning as a threat to frighten or bully me into staying. He repeatedly told me that if I were to leave, the police would drag me from my home and force me to come back. Other members of staff kept repeating this message – ‘there’s no point trying to leave, we will force you to come back.’

The staff refused to remove the needle from my left arm; they told me that if I left the hospital with it still attached they would definitely be able to bring me back. It was disgusting that they used this as a ‘bargaining chip’ to stop me leaving. I felt completely powerless and it was obvious they had no respect for me or my wife.

Eventually, I managed to call my psychiatrist, [name], who informed me that it would be very difficult, if not impossible for them to ‘section’ me and that I was free to leave the hospital if that was my desire.

Again, I had to ask for the needle to be taken out of my arm. It was still causing me pain, and I had mentioned this a number of times. Eventually, over an hour after the IV had finished, one of the nurses, [name], removed it. She was very unfriendly and continued repeating the threats as she pulled it from my arm carelessly. My arm bled profusely, which didn’t seem to concern her. She just gave me a dressing and told me to apply pressure and walked off. Once the bleeding slowed, I left the hospital.

Combined with the fact that I had not received any of my usual medication for over 24 hours, the threats made regarding sectioning me had raised my anxiety levels higher than I can remember them ever being. I was so traumatised by this experience that I vomited when I arrived home. I’ve suffered from anxiety for a number of years and this has never happened before. I was too full of adrenaline and too afraid of the police knocking on my door to be able to sleep when I got home. I couldn’t stop shaking. My wife found this extremely stressful as well.

The police did not arrive, as my psychiatrist had obviously been correct when he told me the A&E doctor could not section me. It is completely unacceptable that this was used as an empty threat and a bullying tactic to attempt to force me to do what individuals with no knowledge of my history and my support networks thought was best. I am highly doubtful that they had my best interest in mind, as they were rude, aggressive and disrespectful. I was treated with no dignity whatsoever. The manner in which these staff dealt with me brought me to tears and humiliated me in front of a room full of strangers.

I understand that there is a time and a place for sectioning patients, but I feel it is important to do so with enough information to know that it is necessary and proportionate to the perceived risk. I feel that in my case, it was used as an empty threat. At no time did I receive a psychological consultation or undergo any risk assessment or psychological assessment. No member of staff asked how my mood was, whether there was any help they could offer or anything they could do to make my experience less traumatic. I felt unsafe and uncared for. I felt as though I was discriminated against because my being on the ward was ‘self-inflicted’. It seemed there was no understanding of the fact that my overdose was a symptom of my depression.

I hope that these complaints are taken seriously, as the way in which I was treated has had a huge impact on me and will most certainly set me back in my recovery from the breakdown I suffered a few months ago. It is incredibly hard work trying to rebuild your life after such illness, and being treated so badly by professionals who are supposed to help and care makes this even harder. This experience was far more distressing than it needed to be and I am frightened by the lack of understanding and sympathy provided to a person with a very real and debilitating illness. I hope that these individuals are held to account, so no other vulnerable person is subjected to such neglect and abuse.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Gemma says:

    It feels wrong liking your status m, but I just wanted you to know how truly sorry I am that you have been treated like this. I had a terrible experience with my local mental health crisis team. It makes me more fearful if my mental health takes a huge dip again x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I get how that feels. It is the only safety net, but you can’t be confident they will help. It’s scary. Hopefully neither of us will need them again x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Gemma says:

        Thanks. You too. Your letter is well written. It saddens me that mental health is treated with such disregard and contempt x


      2. Me too. That’s why we all need to talk about it. We need to have the courage to unashamedly admit we are ill and start squashing the stigma. That’s the only way anything will change.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. helgaschnitz says:

    Very well written absolutely to the point. Sorry you’ve had this experience.

    Liked by 1 person

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