“The NHS is one service – and that’s how it should be”

My mum Fiona has battled severe depression and anxiety for over 10 years. She used to live in West Yorkshire but, as she lives alone, she recently moved to be closer to my husband and me in the South East. Since she moved, the quality of the care she is getting through local NHS mental health services is noticeably worse, and I feel like I have to intervene at every turn and fight for her to get the treatment she needs. I have found it especially difficult to get help for her when she has been in crisis, because we seem to keep falling through the gaps between the different services involved in supporting her.

Amey with her mother Fiona

Amey with her mother Fiona

Last summer, mum was really unwell. I first rang the community mental health team that usually supports her, to find that they had discharged her back into the care of her GP. This was the first we had heard that they had discharged her. They suggested I call the local crisis team, which I did, but their records showed that mum was still under the care of the community team, which they said meant they couldn’t help us. We were stuck between two bits of the NHS and neither were willing to help. All the while mum was hysterical, shouting and screaming and trying to hurt herself.

I was desperate. I drove her down the building where the community mental health team is based, hoping she would be able to self-refer back into the system. She was seen by the community psychiatric nurse and a psychiatrist, but they didn’t have any medication on site that would calm her down, so they rang an ambulance. The ambulance took us to A&E at the local hospital.

We were put in a side room and sat there for 14 hours. Mum was very distressed and from time to time someone would come in and try to and settle her down, saying that the mental health team were on their way, but they never came. Eventually, late into the night, they gave mum a sedative. At midnight a member of staff came to say that they would try to find a bed for her. They said that someone would come to assess her shortly and that I should go home and get some rest – they said she would be safe and that they would call me in the morning to let me know where mum had been taken.

I got a phone call at 5am. It was the early morning team telling me that mum had been assessed and was fine, so could I come and pick her up, otherwise they were going to send her home in a taxi. I couldn’t believe it. Clearly what had happened was that by the time they came to assess her, the sedatives had kicked in and she was sleepy. She’d been suicidal and hurting herself, but they were happy just to put her in a taxi and send her home on her own.

Since then, we’ve had very little support. The crisis team come, two at a time, but they only confirm whether they are coming in the morning or the evening, without a more specific time slot, and it’s not good for mum’s anxiety not knowing when strangers might turn up at her door. They once sent two men and they didn’t turn up until after 10pm, which I don’t think is right for a woman living on her own.

We’ve had to start paying for private carers to give mum some consistency and structure. They come every day at 10.30 and stay an hour and a half, take her to the shops and make sure she is doing things – otherwise she spirals down and becomes unwell again. It’s a lot of money to pay but we don’t have a choice – there’s just nothing else available at the moment to help her.

Over the years mum and I have come to understand mental health services really well. It helps that she used to be a nurse herself, but in reality understanding the difference between community, crisis care and A&E doesn’t help us navigate it any better. To most people, the NHS is one service – and that’s how it should be. If you had a broken leg, you wouldn’t be passed from pillar to post and expected to fight to get any kind of support, so it shouldn’t be any different for mental health. Mental health services needs to work better together as one system so that people get the help they need when they need it.