I still don’t do God, but I know there are many good people who do, and I met one such recently, namely the Bishop of Birmingham, David Urquhart. We got talking about mental health services, and since our meeting the Bishop has written to me about a family friend and former parishioner of his in Hessle, East Yorkshire. She is called Sally Burke, who has been campaigning for adequate local provision so that her teenage daughter, Maisie, can have the best medical hospital care within reach of her family and friends.
He enclosed a letter from her, adding ‘please read her letter, sign the Petition, even take the egg challenge, as I have, and join the urgent effort to direct resources to help profoundly ill young people rejoin society.’
Here is her letter. As George Osborne stands up today and makes false claims for some kind of economic miracle, as Nick Clegg goes into an election campaign claiming to have made great strides for mental health care, I hope they can both find time to read this, and feel the shame we should all feel at how far we are from the parity of esteem between mental and physical healthcare that we are supposed to be meeting.
Dear Mr Campbell,
My 13 year old daughter is ill. She is in a hospital 60 miles away from home and as of today, 5th March 2015, she has been away far from home for 92 days and I have to take a two hour round trip to visit her.
As her Mum I would expect to see her, cuddle her and reassure her every day. As her Mum I need to be there when she needs me. As her Mum I should be able to hold her hand through her recovery. As her Mum, not being able to do so is heartbreaking. Trying to sleep at night, knowing my little girl is so far away, lonely and homesick is harrowing.
You are probably sat there thinking Maisie has a very rare illness or a contagious disease or even perhaps we must live in an extremely remote and isolated place. But none of these are correct. The actual truth is Maisie has Autism and suffers with anxiety, depression and self harm. The complication is that we live in Hull, East Yorkshire.
Hull is one of the few big cities in England without a children’s inpatient mental health unit. These units are for children and adolescents whose mental health needs are severe and consequently need round the clock support from mental health professionals. These general mental health beds are used for assessment and treatment and staff are specifically trained in mental health and most importantly dealing with children in crisis. They know how to deal with these patients with sensitivity and dignity and to access the appropriate specialists and medication required – all within a safe environment. The patient sometimes then moves on to a more specialised or secure unit or returns home. Children can therefore be admitted to a unit for a few days or a few months. It is a distressing time for both the child and their family, but currently it is made far worse by being so far away.
Maisie and many other vulnerable children from Hull and nearby are in units scattered across the UK. Previously Maisie was admitted to a unit in Stafford, which was 130 miles from home and currently we have other local children far away in Liverpool, Manchester, Scotland and one child has just returned from Northampton. These distances are travelled to receive the vital and in many cases life saving mental health support they need.
The child’s anguish, emotional distress and heartbreak are being ignored. The effect this is having on the parents and family is being ignored and the fact that these vulnerable children need their families around them at this frightening time is being ignored.
In December 2013, when I was first told that the nearest appropriate beds were over an hour away, I was astonished and shocked. After two separate admissions I am now angry. Why are Maisie and the other children in mental health crisis not important enough to make sure they have the appropriate care and support locally? In a nutshell it is because it is mental illness.
One evening a couple of months ago, physically and mentally exhausted and feeling totally helpless and desperate, I broke down in every possible way. At that moment I knew I had to stand up for Maisie and highlight this unfair, unacceptable and shameful situation. Caring for Maisie is my priority, but alongside that now is my mission to change things for the better and I have a dedicated team of family and friends helping me with the battle. I started an e-petition on the 38 degrees website, to reinstate 24/7 child and adolescent mental health services in Hull including inpatient facilities. And then I went public with my campaign.
I have been overwhelmed with the initial response from people who live locally – most are as outraged as me and ask how has this has been allowed to happen? Our local media have been incredible: repeatedly covering and updating the story on radio and in the press – helping to raise awareness for the whole region. It has also featured on BBC local and national news TV and websites.
People ask me what I need, which is very easy to answer – a new local child and adolescent unit with 24/7 resources and inpatient facilities. But I’ve realised I now want much more than that. Our mentally ill children deserve early diagnosis and parents shouldn’t have to fight for their care. It is not like this for physical illness, so why is mental illness treated so badly and how do we have such inequality?
If Maisie had cancer, she would have been quickly and efficiently admitted into local, state of the art facilities and been given a twelve month care plan detailing the medical staff involved in her care, key appointment dates for treatment and 24/7 contact details. I wouldn’t have had to ask for it, never mind fight for it.
NHS England recommends that children suffering with mental health issues are admitted as close to home as possible. It also highlights that far away beds are detrimental to the child’s recovery and often makes the stay longer. It has been well documented for a number of years that children’s mental illness is rising and will continue to do so, in particular self harming. The Yorkshire and Humber area was highlighted as a ‘geographical gap’ and that it had an ‘under provision’ of beds in the NHS England national review of specialised children and adolescent mental health services, known as Tier 4 provision, back in July 2014. It strongly recommended the gaps were plugged as soon as possible.
Mental illness is treatable with the right therapies, medication and early intervention. But here we are in 2015 with a primitive and cruel system. I even use the word system loosely, as there isn’t one – it took five days to find a mental health bed when Maisie last hit crisis – that was five, long, self harming days in a children’s surgical ward, which was totally inappropriate for Maisie and the other patients.
People need educating and the stigma banishing – 1 in 10 children suffer with a mental health condition. The youngsters at schools and colleges understand the real issues because it’s around them. They can see and hear about the problems and will probably know someone suffering with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self harming and suicidal tendencies. It seems the lack of understanding is in the older generations accepting these are the real and modern mental illnesses; they cannot be ignored anymore and that help has to be constant, consistent and unconditional – just like we treat our children with physical illness.
Please can you sign the petition and share with your friends. This will not only give my campaign a boost but also raise the profile of children’s mental illness and the daily struggles. I would appreciate any support you can offer – thank you.
Oh and the name of my campaign – HELP GET MAISIE HOME – please can you help?