After the government announced a five-year suicide prevention strategy and prepares to launch a national investigation in mental health services next month, one patient explains why NHS care is failing her.
Nicola Brokenshire, a 28-year-old with autism and resulting mental health problems, has been in and out of inpatient care for around 10 years. Unfortunately, she feels that each time she goes into hospital, her hope diminishes further. She believes that the NHS care she has received has done more damage than repair.
Nicola’s experience in Wotton Lawn hospital in Gloucestershire has been less than satisfactory. She claims that the hospital’s main goal is to make patients appear as though they have been helped, and then discharge them. She also highlights the issue of staff falling asleep on the job, stating that it happens too frequently and poses a risk to patient safety. Nicola believes that staff at the hospital are more reactive than proactive, failing to prevent self-harm and address the underlying issues that lead to it.
Sleeping staff and other failings at Wotton Lawn were previously reported by Sky News in May. This investigation revealed that staff were asleep on duty, patients were going missing, and some were discharged despite expressing suicidal thoughts. Nicola’s case is not an isolated one; there have been other instances where patients have jumped off the roof or regularly climbed to the top of the building to spend time there.
Another issue raised by Nicola is the increasing use of agency staff in the hospital. She claims to have seen a significant rise in the past year, with some staff travelling from far away or working long hours without adequate rest. She believes that this is indicative of a cultural problem within the leadership of the trust.
Nicola’s experience in the hospital has led her to self-harm, which she attributes to her autism and the lack of coping mechanisms provided to her. She had attempted to take her own life on the hospital roof and had learned new methods of self-harm from other patients during her admissions. She feels that the longer she stays in the hospital, the harder it becomes for her mentally and physically.
Nicola’s family feels that she needs better autism-informed care and that the hospital has not provided adequate support for her transition out of inpatient care. An independent review panel expressed concerns about her care plan and raised questions about her safety during the transition.
Nicola’s story highlights the urgent need for improvements in mental health services and better support for individuals with autism. The government’s suicide prevention strategy is a step in the right direction, but significant changes are needed to ensure that individuals like Nicola receive the care and support they require to prevent self-harm and suicide.