Your kidneys become infected and stop working properly. Your doctor insists that you’re admitted for emergency treatment, but when you get to the hospital, you discover that because more men than women need kidney treatment right now, they have closed the renal ward to women.
You are put into an ambulance and taken to a hospital in a town you’ve never been to before, about an hour’s drive from where you live. When you get there, your condition is assessed and they admit you for six month’s treatment.
You suddenly feel very scared. You have two small children and your husband works full time. How will they be able to come and visit you? You realise you’re going separated from your close family for months and that your friends, family and colleagues will struggle to come and see you too. You feel very alone and very isolated.
When you demand to be treated closer to home, you’re told no; only male patients can get treatment locally in your area, but that it is perfectly acceptable as there are beds in other hospitals, that it’s only temporary and that some women can be treated at home, so they are all right. The managers say they don’t know when your local ward will be open again, but a member of staff accidentally lets it slip that it’s a 6 month temporary closure. That’s the whole of your treatment.
Six months away from your home, your friends, your family, all your support networks, the places you know and like, the town you live in. Six months with only seeing your children perhaps once or twice a week, but the visits are fraught as they are tired after the journey and there’s nothing for them to do at the hospital. Six months without the chance to go for a coffee during the day with a friend. Six months of hearing your children cry on the phone to you at night as they don’t understand why you can’t come home. Six months and there is NOTHING you can do about it.
This sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? A hospital wouldn’t close its doors to all women as there were more men who needed treatment. No one would send you away for six months of treatment with no chance of being closer to home.
But if you’re a female mental health patient in North Lancashire that is exactly what is going on and exactly what would happen to you if you needed inpatient care right now. It is what would happen to me and to my children if I got seriously ill again.
At first glance Beds in the Orchard looks like a small local issue. After all, what concern should be 6 female inpatient beds in one small psychiatric unit in a one small city be to people elsewhere in the country?
But don’t be fooled by the small, local appearance of Beds in the Orchard. What has happened at The Orchard it is indicative of a much wider problem across the country with the chronic underfunding of Mental Health services impacting on the health and wellbeing of thousands of people and communities. It is indicative of the hard price being paid by women and their families nationally; as they find that their local inpatient psychiatric care has disappeared, leading to them being separated from their support at the time when they need it most.
You need to take an interest because it may be the hospital in your town that stops admitting women next. It may be your mother, your daughter your sister, or even you who finds yourself being sent miles away for care with no chance of being treated closer to home. It could be your friend with severe PND or Puerperal Psychosis separated from her baby or young children for months on end. It could be you if that niggling sense of unease you have turns into a severe depression.
As time and again, the cuts to mental health care and the loss of psychiatric beds are not seen as newsworthy, and campaigns like ours are dismissed as being “too small” or “too local” for people take an interest; the wider picture of the loss of services is consistently missed and hidden. Hidden, of course, right up until you need the service, only to find it’s not there.
What makes it all even more difficult to get public interest is that the women it affects most are the ones who are often too ill, or too scared or too anxious to stand up for themselves, as is made clear in the piece about our campaign in the Huffington Post. There is only strength and interest in numbers, which is why we need people who are strong enough to stand up for those who can’t.
Mental illness can happen to anyone. It happened to me. It could happen to you too. Help us stand up for the women of North Lancashire by signing our petition or by getting involved using the information on elsewhere on this blog. Help us let Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust know that this has to change,