Monday, 29 July 2013

Failed by the NHS?

Being someone who suffers from mental health problems, I have been extremely interested in the BBC's current 'It's a Mad World' season. Recently there has been a great deal of campaigning for greater awareness of mental health issues, which is helping to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. Tonight's documentary on BBC Three, entitled 'Failed by the NHS', involved several young people explaining how they have been let down by NHS mental health services and describing the impact of this on their lives. It is true that a vast number of people who try to access mental health services are disappointed and left feeling let down by the very people who are supposed to help them. Suffering from mental illness myself, and having spent a lot of time around other people with mental health problems (especially in the last year), I have heard countless stories of how the NHS has failed people, and not just with regards to their mental health. It is truly upsetting to hear these things and it does make me, and many others, feel angry and disgusted at the NHS and the government, for lack of funding to various health services.

I also happened to catch part of another documentary, earlier in the evening, this time courtesy of Channel 4, about the short-comings of the NHS 111 service. There are so many documentaries and news reports and personal tales of the failures of the NHS; and I am not doubting for a second the validity of these accounts and concerns, but, having had a lot more contact with NHS services than the average person, I feel that people have a tendency to ignore the good parts of the NHS and, I must admit, I feel a certain kind of protectiveness towards the institution that has done so much for me.

In the UK we are privileged to have a national, public health service. If we didn't have this service, and health care was provided only to those who could afford either the cost of treatment or insurance (like in countries such as the USA), millions of people would have to go without treatment for serious health conditions and perhaps even die as a result of not being able to afford health care costs. From a very young age I suffered from a number of serious health conditions, some of which are still ongoing, that required a lot of treatment, including surgery. All of this treatment will have come with a very hefty price tag which my family would not be able to afford and no insurance company would insure me with so many pre-existing conditions requiring expensive treatments. I cannot help but feel so lucky to live in a country where I am able to receive all of this treatment for free, especially as the risks of not receiving treatment (and in some cases emergency treatment) could have actually been fatal.

I have spent a great deal of time in doctors' surgeries and hospitals and, yes, a lot of that time was mostly spent sitting in the waiting rooms of clinics that were running late for whatever reason. NHS waiting times can be long and boring, and extremely uncomfortable, but whenever I have needed a referral to a different department or even surgery, I have received the care that I needed; eventually.

When I first came home from University to seek some kind of treatment for my mental health problems, I had hoped to be able to only take one year out of University to get well and then I could return to University the next year. That didn't happen. I have now had two years out of University and, though I am returning to studying, I am not returning to the University I was studying at before. There are several reasons for this but one of them is simply that, though I have had a year of intensive group therapy and am significantly better than I was before I started the therapy, I still feel unable to live so far away from home and from the support that I have gained here from my family, my friends, my GP and St Andrew's - where I received my therapy. But this isn't a result of prolonged NHS waiting times. Yes it took just over a year to actually get on to the intensive group therapy programme but I didn't spend that whole time just sitting around waiting and twiddling my thumbs. After seeing my GP a few times, during which time he took the time to get my medication right, I was referred to my local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT). I then had a couple of assessments with them before I was referred for an initial assessment at St Andrew's. Whilst I was waiting for the referral with St Andrew's to go through I received Occupational Therapy sessions from an Occupational Therapist who was attached to the CMHT. When I was then assessed at St Andrew's, I was given three appointments at the end of which time, I was referred on to the group therapy programme and I got a place relatively quickly. I then underwent a year of intensive group therapy which brings me up to the end of June this year. And since then I have had a follow up appointment with my key therapist from the programme and attend a monthly follow up group for people who have left the group programme.

All of this has taken a grand total of two years. Which to some may seem like a long time but during that time I had regular appointments with my GP and when I discovered that some people on the group programme with me had waited literally years to get on to the programme, I felt blessed to have had to wait such a relatively short amount of time to get my place. This has all been since I returned home to York from University in Brighton. Admittedly, in Brighton, it wasn't quite as easy getting the help that I needed but part of that was down to me taking a long time to actually admit that I had a problem. I have suffered from my mental health problems for a long time; since about the age of seven. And in that time I have received a lot of therapy and counselling for various issues. As a child and, more so, as a teenager I was very stubborn and refused to accept any kind of help. I decided that I disliked all therapists and help professionals and I refused to cooperate. I feel that, to an extent, I was justified in my feelings towards some of the so-called 'support' that I was given but now I can also see that, whatever my feelings about that help, I was still given a lot of help. And I am aware that not everyone does receive the level of care I did. This actually makes me feel very selfish and ungrateful that I didn't accept help earlier. And perhaps if I had, I wouldn't have ended up on my own in Sussex County Hospital at four a.m one morning needing nine stitches in my arm and a psych consult after an episode of self-harming. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Anyway, my point is that the help was there. I may have chosen not to accept it, for whatever reasons my screwed up teenage brain came up with, but it was there. Repeatedly I was referred back to counselors and therapists and the eating disorders team and family therapy and you-name-it whoever else. This, to me, does not speak of an NHS service that fails to provide mental health services to adolescents and young people.

I'm not saying that the NHS doesn't have faults. And I'm not saying that my experiences are the experiences of everyone, or even of the majority. I really do feel for everyone who has been let down by the NHS; be it for mental health issues or any other health problems. Maybe I have just been extremely lucky to have received the amount of treatment and care that I have. And I don't want to belittle any bad experiences that anyone has had with the NHS. But I do feel that not enough is said about how much the NHS has and does help people. I feel terribly sad and disheartened by reports of yet more and more bad service from the NHS. And the current economic climate really does not help matters. But I just really wanted to say that it isn't all bad. And to those of you who are reading this and work for the NHS or have worked for the NHS; Thank you. You do an amazing job. I'm sorry you get such a bad press. But you really are awesome.

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