Hello, my name is Debby and I am diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When I took a massive OD and ended up on ICU for 2 weeks, I was admitted afterwards to psychiatric hospital. I live in Morecambe which is right next door to Lancaster. There were no beds at the old unit, Ridge Lea in Lancaster, so I was moved to Chorley which is an hour's drive away. I have no problem in my treatment there, but I was isolated from my husband, children and extended family and friends. Most of the time they could not afford to visit very often to see me.
This increased my distress a great deal and meant that at a highly vulnerable time, I had no advocate who could help me express my wishes and needs. A psychiatric patient often can't talk, or think clearly or be articulate by the nature of their problem. So decisions were made which worried me, such as changing my anti depressants which entailed coming off the other ones. This made the severe depression become far more dangerous and suicide was a clear risk.
I was alone with no-one I knew to support me. When my family visited, no psychiatrist was available to question what had happened to cause my recent break down, what stresses I was under, how I had behaved in the run up to this, and any number of other issues that were vital to my care. I can't stress this enough, this proved to be very dangerous and a major impact on how I was treated.
As I slowly improved enough, I was permitted off the ward. But I didn't know the place or any person around me. It held back my recovery. My husband was severely ill, in hospital, and eventually died whilst I was in hospital. When at Chorley, I couldn't visit him or support him at all. This was devastating emotionally and my fear for his safety was terrible, increasing my depression, if that was possible.
Eventually, I was transferred to Ridge Lea in Lancaster and the difference was astonishing. My daughter could be my advocate, explain how I was when normal, that I tended to smile a lot and be concerned for others welfare, but for staff to not believe that. She stood up for me when the medication changed and helped me to be able to engage with my own care. She also explained that I hallucinated but hid this – which came as surprise to the professionals, as that hadn't been passed over to them from Chorley. If there were any issues, she could get there very quickly and help to resolve them.
Ridge Lea was almost all communal, apart from the bed rooms, but there was nothing to stop males wandering into the female area. I saw men who were very ill and aggressive, but never once felt at risk or in danger. The staff were more than able to manage this. Not once did a man wander into the women's bed area - not once.
I could now visit my husband daily as I had family to be with me whilst out of the unit. This was vital as he was dying and I would have been unable to be with him in his last days if I had stayed in Chorley. The horror of that is beyond words. He died whilst I was on the unit. The despair not only of the patient, but also the family, if they cannot see each other regularly cannot be stressed enough.
When discharged, I was able to be cared for in the community immediately with a full handover and liaison between the hospital and the community. If I had been far away from Lancaster, this could have compromised my care as there wouldn't have been the connection between the hospital consultant and the community one, who meet often and discuss patients they have in common. This is vital.
The system in the hospitals is that once information has been transferred from one to the next, the computer prevents them adding anything to it and the system closes down that connection. I learned this when Ridge Lea tried to ask an OT who had spent a long time with me in Chorley, to send them her report. It wasn't possible, so all that information was lost. This will happen every time if women are bussed to other units in Lancashire. If the community psychiatrist needs to ask specific details later, it will rely on a member of staff in the other unit firstly remembering the patient and secondly being able to find that information. The chance of this is remote.
Having been in the situation of being in two units, I can give a very clear example of what happens when a woman is separated from their community. I cannot believe that the women's beds have been removed, it is a ridiculous situation, imposed from on high, without any consultation with professionals, but more importantly, patients themselves. This is dictatorship and a cruel thing to implement – utterly cruel!
I was four months in hospital and never once had an issue with male patients in either unit. I also saw two thirds more women to men during that entire stay and talking to other women who had spent time in the units, this was very common.
This is sexist. If it was about race, there would be an outrage, quite rightly. But its OK to do it based on gender? Yet again women are being punished, treated like second class citizens with this action. I am wondering if it comes under the sex equality legislation and is illegal. Its a step which the even the Victorians would not have done! I can't think of a more obvious example of discrimination against women. If men are violent, they should be on a medium secure unit anyway. By the way, the vast majority of staff in these units are women – or has that point escaped anonymous pen pushers at the top of system?