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Life after Maudsley

Life after Maudsley means second-rate healthcare

July 20th 2007

By Anna Giokas

THE grim reality of mental health care after the closure of the Maudsley's 24-hour emergency clinic was revealed this week.

Sarah Tonin, who suffers from schizophrenia, joined thousands in the fight to keep the clinic open, warning that without its specialist staff, patients in South London would be left with a second-rate service.

The campaigners lost their fight and within weeks of its closure Sarah found out first hand that their predictions were true.

In the middle of a severe mental health crisis, she was sent to King's College Hospital's A&E where a frightening five-hour ordeal followed.

Manhandled by security guards and treated in an open ward instead of the segregated area promised by then Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt.

The professionalism of the staff at King's is not in doubt but the simple fact is that compared to the 24-hour emergency clinic,it is not good enough.

SARAH Tonin campaigned for the Maudsley's emergency clinic for two years,but despite the efforts of her and thousands of others it closed.

Then, just weeks after it stopped seeing emergency cases, she suffered a mental crisis and saw first hand what happens without it.

Sarah, 37, has schizophrenia and about a month ago began to go into the most severe mental crisis she has experienced in 10 years.

She believed she could see bodies, that strangers on the street were giving messages to her and thought she was in extreme danger.

The emergency clinic at the Maudsley Hospital in Denmark Hill would have been her first port of call, but after its closure Sarah tried to get through it at home.

Things then came to a head on June 24 when in desperation her parents called first an ambulance, then an out-of-hours doctor, and finally the police.

Although Sarah was at the height of the crisis only the doctor was able to give her medication, the others simply left her in the care of her frightened parents at her flat in Peckham.

Finally her worried parents decided to drive her to the Maudsley the next morning and see if they could get help.

They were sent to King's College Hospital A&E in Denmark Hill.

But, frightened and confused, when she arrived at reception, Sarah refused to leave and had to be carried into the Majors unit in A&E - a room lined with cubicles - by security guards.

She said: "These two big security men carried me, they had rubber gloves on and that scared me because I thought they were going to strip-search me.

"They carried me into a cubicle. There were lots of old people coming in on drips and things, and I could hear people talking about me."

When then Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt signed off the clinic's closure in January she said one of the conditions was that there had to be a separate space in A&E for mentally-ill patients.

Sarah was taken there during her stay, with guards stationed outside,but was too distressed to stay there long.

Sarah said: "I know now that the security guards were meaning to help me,but it was very frightening."

After being seen by a psychiatric nurse, a doctor, two psychiatrists and a social worker she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. She was there for five hours before being transferred to Guy's hospital.

King's did everything by the book - the service Sarah got was the best service they can offer.

But Sarah said: "It wasn't enough, it just wasn't. I'm so worried now about other people going 

there and feeling the way I felt. I know it would not have been like that at the clinic."

A spokeswoman from King's College Hospital said: "The patient was seen by a psychiatric liaison nurse within a minute of coming into the reception.

"There was a problem in that she would not come out of the reception area, she was in acute distress and she needed to get out of there. The security guards were called with her parents' consent.

"I understand that if you are used to the emergency clinic it might be difficult to come into something different, but she saw all the right people and the processes were followed absolutely."