'Filthy environment and uncaring staff': Woman slams hospital unit
- Credit: NSFT/ Lucy Taylor
A woman taken by police to a secure hospital unit has slammed the county’s mental health trust for its “uncaring staff” and “filthy environment”.
The patient, a 43-year-old woman from Woodbridge, was taken to the 136 Suite at the Woodlands mental health unit attached to Ipswich Hospital on March 16 late in the evening.
She said she began filming staff after being “absolutely appalled” by her treatment and how dirty the hospital was, and has shared the recordings with this newspaper.
NSFT has apologised and said the support given at the time “could and should have been better”.
Police detained the woman in an Ipswich car park, using emergency powers under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to take someone to a place of safety when they are at risk of harming themselves or others.
People with a Section 136 can be detained for up 24 hours. After a mental health assessment, they can be discharged or kept in hospital.
But the patient said her time at the suite, which is run by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), left her “more traumatised than when she went in”.
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She said she was there for around 16 hours before being discharged.
The 43-year-old, who did not want to be named, said she has autism and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But she claims she was ignored by staff who “locked themselves away” in their office, took personal phone calls and refused to acknowledge her when she knocked on the door to get their attention.
She said “not one” member of staff looked at her autism communication passport, which helps autistic people communicate their needs to doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
When she asks one of the staff in the video if they know anything about communication passports and whether they wanted to see hers, the staff member appears confused, asks “what for” and then tells the patient that he will “discuss that with the nurse in charge”.
“It’s safe to say no senior nurse came to speak to me about this, took a look at my passport or how they could make my stay more comfortable”, the patient said.
“My experience there left me genuinely concerned for others in my situation.
“People taken to the 136 Suite are in a very vulnerable position and at serious risk. But when I was there, I felt like a nuisance.
“The staff were so unwelcoming and uncaring.”
The patient also said the suite was “filthy”, with graffiti and marks on the floor and walls, hair and bodily fluids on the floor and toothpaste smeared on the suite’s safety mirrors.
“I couldn't bear being there”, she said. “I felt so stressed and uneasy. The place was disgusting.”
Stuart Richardson, chief executive at NSFT, said: “We’re grateful to the patient for sharing her recordings with us and we are very sorry they show she was not listened to by some of our staff.
“A full investigation is underway with human resources policies being followed where necessary.
“We would be grateful if the patient could get in touch with our customer service team so that we can fully explore her concerns.”
Addressing her criticisms around cleanliness, he added: “136 suites have a regular cleaning schedule; however, this is subject to an assessment of the level of risk the domestic staff may be subject to while the 136 suite is occupied.”
The 43-year-old's visit to Woodlands is the second this year.
She had previously been detained by police on January 15 after expressing suicidal ideation.
She claims the first time she was taken to the 136 Suite she was discharged without any support – and as a result found herself returning just two months later.
“They effectively told me they can’t do anything to stop me killing myself”, she said.
In response, NSFT said: “When admission to hospital is not in the best interests of the patient, alternative interventions are discussed.
“Support plans are then put in place and treatment options are offered to the patient.”
NSFT under fire
The county's mental health trust was rated "Requires Improvement" by the Care Quality Commission in 2019 – an improvement on the "Inadequate" rating it had from 2014-2018.
It faced criticism in February this year after an investigation revealed NSFT did not escalate a sexual assault allegation at West Suffolk Hospital's emergency department to senior managers.
At the time, an NSFT spokeswoman said the team were sorry the patient's allegations were not dealt with appropriately.
In January, the trust was also criticised by the family of Joshua Sahota after he was able to gain access to a plastic bag that contributed to his death while in NSFT's care.
The coroner wrote to the trust after finding insufficient staffing levels, the absence of a documented care plane, insufficient observations and one-to-one processes also played a part.
Stuart Richardson said Joshua's death was a "tragic accident", and that the trust was doing all it could to "prevent the tragedy being repeated".