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Thousands left to cope alone after leaving mental health hospitals in Kent

A Canterbury woman who went to hospital after two failed suicide attempts was kept waiting 23 hours and got only a five minute consultation.

Alice Mitchell, has anorexia, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

The 19-year-old took herself into Kent and Canterbury Hospital after suffering a severe relapse of her conditions in the last few months which has resulted in constant suicidal thoughts.

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Alice Mitchell Asays she ended up feeling more suicidal when she was discharged than when she first arrived in hospital
Alice Mitchell Asays she ended up feeling more suicidal when she was discharged than when she first arrived in hospital

When she turned up she waited four hours before being briefly seen by a nurse for a five-minute consultation.

She then waited another six hours before being transferred to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

There she waited another 13 hours to see an on-site liaison professional - after being told if she left staff would call police.

But the person Alice saw said they couldn’t give her any advice and said they would refer her on to someone else - only they didn’t.

When Alice, who lives in Barton Road, was later discharged she had no money to get home and her phone battery had gone.

She asked if she could have transport arranged, but was told she wasn’t eligible.

She eventually borrowed a charger and called her mum who came and collected her.

Alice said: “In 23 hours I had a grand total of five minutes face time with a medical professional.

“For the other 22 hours and 55 minutes I was sitting, completely unsupervised in a busy waiting room where the working staff had absolutely no idea I was even there - let alone what my case was.

“I was told that if I tried to leave, they’d call the police, but because I was unsupervised, I could have walked out and thrown myself under a bus and nobody would have done anything.

“When I did come to be discharged I felt even more suicidal than I had done when I arrived.”

Alice was initially admitted to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital
Alice was initially admitted to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital

Alice’s ordeal started when she went to hospital on March 13, but the case has only just come to light.

It has been made public as figures released today show 169 people (7%) of those admitted to mental health hospitals run by the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust failed to receive follow-up treatment within seven days of being discharged.

It echoes the experience of Alice, who said: “I was given no care plan and no follow up.

“The only thing they did was write to my GP advising her that I should go in for an appointment with her.

“To make matters worse, I’d been for one session of cognitive behavioural therapy but my therapist also decided to discharge me because I’d missed a session while suicidal in hospital.

“Now I’m left without any support from mental health services. I’m back to square one.”

The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford
The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford

There is growing recognition of the urgent need for timelier follow-up as a key suicide prevention measure, with both the Inquiry and the House of Commons health select committee recently calling for earlier follow-up after discharge.

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend follow-up within 48 hours for some patients only.

Mental health charity Mind is calling for this to extend to everyone leaving hospital after a mental health crisis.

Its findings show the lack of appropriate follow-up is also putting significant pressure on the NHS as people are not getting the help they need to recover.

Those not followed up within seven days were more than twice as likely to end up in A&E as a result of their issues within the first week of being discharged.

"Because I was unsupervised, I could have walked out and thrown myself under a bus and nobody would have done anything" - Alice Mitchell

Sophie Corlett, Mind’s director of external relations, said: “Thousands of people with mental health problems in England and Wales are not getting the appropriate follow-up when they are first discharged from hospital.

“This is not good enough.

“It is a tragedy that so many people so very recently leaving the care of hospital are losing their lives.

“The Government has put suicide prevention as a key patient safety issue for the NHS as a whole and pledged to reduce suicides by 10 per cent in the next five years.

“Timelier follow-up for patients after they leave hospital could help achieve this.

“If you don’t get the right care after you leave, if you’re left to cope alone, you can end up in a revolving door going straight back in to hospital or be at risk of taking your own life.”

A spokesman for KMPT said: "Due to data protection we are unable to comment on individuals but we would urge anyone with feedback about our services to contact our patient experience team on 0800 783 9972.

"Figures released by Mind show that 93% of those discharged from KMPT are followed up within a week, which is above the regional average.

"Follow up can include referral to a GP.

"There are many reasons why the small proportion of patients released from our services are not followed up within a week, this can include the patient living out of area and outside of the UK as well as difficulties contacting the patient.

"We are working hard to achieve our agreed national target set by commissioners of ensuring 95% of patients discharged by KMPT are followed up in seven days or less.

"Patients who are discharged into the community are assigned to a crisis resolution team that they are able to contact on a 24 hour basis.

"KMPT also has a single point of access number, 0300 222 0123.

"Anyone living in the Kent or Medway area who is experiencing a mental health crisis can call this number.”

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