"A day visit at Maudsley"
About: South London And Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust / Inpatient mental health care South London And Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Inpatient mental health care SE5 8AZ
Posted by troubledrelative (as ),
When we arrive, we buzz the door and wait to be acknowledged. There is no response. A staff member who is arriving asks who we are and tells us to wait while she asks permission for us to be buzzed in. We continue waiting and it looks as though they are continuing to ignore us, so we buzz again. We receive a response this time and are let in.
We are told that there is an emergency on the ward and we will have to wait until things have settled before we’re allowed in. While we wait patients come up to the ward door that contains one small frosted glass panel, and hammer on it with their fists. My father checks each time to see if he can make out whether or not the silhouette is of my sister or another patient.
There seems a certain sadistic delight to the way in which the orderlies slam the ward door on their way in or out, as though it enforces their status. I wonder if they really mean to slam it in this way because it does not seem particularly kind. These are patients after all, not prisoners.
This is the third facility that she has been transferred to. The NHS has no idea what to do with her. I would like to say that this is an uncommon occurrence, but I don’t believe that it is.
We are finally let in, and are told to hand over our mobile phones and take out anything we intend to bring through because plastic bags are not allowed on the ward. There is a smile at my father who has prepared his phone by wrapping it in a piece of paper with his name on it.
I spot my sister on the far side of the dingy recreation room. She is gaunt, has lost considerable weight since I saw her last, and is wearing a hospital gown with a hoodie over the top to help keep her warm.
We are ushered through to a small interview room that will serve as a private place to visit my sister while she is interred here.
The room has four identical foam wipe-cleanable chairs, three of which have been pushed together to form a sofa of the kind that you would never wish to lie back onto, and the other has been placed by the window which has a grill placed over it. The walls are white and the floor is bare, it is cold.
When my sister comes through after us I look up at her face and see that her lower lip is trembling and she is trying not to cry. Her face is grey, her eyes have dark circles underneath them and she keeps trying to pull her hospital gown over her legs. The lady who let us through said that they discouraged visitors bringing clothes for their loved ones. Of course, because this isn't a laundry, it is a treatment facility. It seems that patients shouldn't be allowed to feel comfortable in clothes that they own. I suppose that comfort is not the priority here, perhaps management is.
Her hoodie has picked up marks that look like paint - as though she has slept up against a wall that has recently been whitewashed. Her hair is greasy and un-brushed, still showing the highlights from a few weeks ago before this nightmare began. It is clear that she has not showered in weeks. She is desperately in need of care and has received none. If she wants to cry, I don’t blame her. I want to as well.
To her credit, she holds back tears and spends the next few minutes trying to sit down. She seems embarrassed by the gown and I persuade her to sit on the floor. I sit down there with her.
Somewhere outside our visit room music of the kind that would drive me to psychotic depression is played as ‘therapy’. Throughout the course of our visit, we can hear patients walking up and down the hallway outside, banging on the doors, sometimes ours, and chanting. They are not being attended, but are instead free to roam around in this gloomy NHS prison.
She is heavily drugged, but appears to know enough about her surroundings to know that she is in hell. It is a place that appears to exclude professional care from its mandate. After all, I have not seen a single doctor on the ward. Instead there are orderlies, people who seem employed to stand around and just wait and see if anything kicks off.
During the time that I am there, she eats all of the food that we have brought in for her, mostly fruit and some chocolate. I ask what meals she has had and whether the food is good there. She cannot answer the first question but tells me the food is ok.
She is still my sister, but she is frail and tired and dirty and struggling to focus under the haze of the various drugs she is taking. A few times her head rolls backwards or forwards and her eyes close, or she heaves a huge, tired sigh.
The visit leaves me deep with despair at her dishevelled and sorry state, and angry at those who have appointed themselves as her healthcare professionals and fail every single day at this job - the one they are paid so handsomely for, that we, as taxpayers pay them so handsomely for.
Over the course of the next day I plan further visits, ones in which I am better prepared to help her, to comfort her, to bring her through this. In an ideal scenario, the medical practitioners charged with her care should be doing likewise.
It is all for naught though. Later that day she is moved a fourth time, she will go back to where she has come from. My father who was visiting her alone that day was approached as he was leaving and asked ‘I assume you’ve been told? ’
The decision to move a patient does not concern the family, they apparently do not need to be consulted or, in many cases, even told where their loved one has been moved to.
If ever there has been a case for psychiatric reform, I feel that it is in plain sight at the Maudsley. Any system that takes care and community out of the equation and replaces them with social exclusion and segregation is madness in itself.