Sheffield Mental Health services: don't abandon your duty of care!

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This is my friend Ellie. She is an amazing human - a kick-ass rollerskating champ, a hula-hoop extraordinaire, and an amazing Patient Ambassador for Medical Education and Research at Sheffield Health and Social Care (Mental Health). She delivers training on what it's like to be on the receiving end of mental health treatment to the Police, to NHS professionals, and big conferences up and down the country. She's a superstar in the sector and everyone values her expertise!

Everyone, that is, except the people who are meant to be looking after her care and safety. Up front, Ellie is a very outgoing, confident and eloquent spokesperson. But, behind the scenes, Ellie’s life is a different story and she regularly experiences extreme trauma and harm. She has a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and experiences severe flashbacks and seizures which are triggered by fire/fire alarms/fire engines, and can't be in a room with a closed door or a building alone. Ellie has written a bit about her mental health, and you can find out more about it here.

In ten days time, it is Bonfire Night. This time of year, with loud fireworks and fire engines across the city, is so traumatic for Ellie that she normally saves her money to leave the country to escape. Ellie wanted to do that this year again, but SHSC's negligence and the abuse she has experienced in housing they placed her in mean she's not well enough to go.

So will they be looking after her over this difficult period? No. In fact, Sheffield Health and Social Care are making Ellie effectively homeless this Friday – she has a house, but without a plan for care in place which they have agreed she needs to be safe, she can’t live in it. Why have they done this? One SHSC representative said that "other people in the city need help as well" and that "friends and family can step in and help". We believe this response is unacceptable and this decision will put Ellie's life at risk.

Three months ago, Ellie was moved to a private sector mental health assisted living facility that was deeply unsuitable for her, with untrained staff, and has suffered serious abuse from male residents since being there. Ellie's health has deteriorated massively due to the impact of this experience to the extent that she is no longer accessing any of her hobbies that help her feel well, and is nowhere near well enough to stay with friends. She does not feel safe where she lives, and no action has been taken about the abuse.

Ellie's friends and family - myself and many others who care for her deeply - have stepped in time and time again when services have let her down. Ellie has stayed at my home when SHSC have made her homeless before. Every time, SHSC withdraw the support she desperately needs to get better - permanently better. We cannot offer her the support she needs to become truly independent and get her normal life back. Ellie’s needs are now far to high for her to live with friends or family, and we can’t give her the specialist care and support she needs, which can only be given by trained professionals. Having been with Ellie when she is in crisis more than once, I know much as I want to help I don’t have the first idea as to how to keep her safe and support deescalation. This is a sentiment shared by her family and friends alike - we are not trained professionals and we cannot step in and deliver what they can. She cannot live with us as an option.

So, she needs specialist housing and care until the specialist therapy she has been approved for is complete and should reduce the impact of her triggers. Most people who know her agree this. It took Ellie and her friends several years to get approval for the therapy she needs, but she can't have it until she's in stable housing. In crisis, Ellie zones out and becomes mute, and frequently carries out very severe self harm. She's written a blog about this here. There are lots of other factors about Ellie's case that make it extremely unsafe for her to live alone without support (at least until her therapy is complete, which will take a year or more), which has been agreed by many professionals around her including her therapist.

Because the staff at SHSC persuaded her it was a good idea and assured her that some form of care package would be put in place, Ellie has secured a private tenancy for herself - but she can't move in until funding is approved for live-in personal assistants -  and if approved, this care package will not be put in place for several weeks. She can't live there without PAs, as the door would need to be open all night, which would be a serious security risk from intruders, and would increase the impact of noise from the outside. From this Friday, she will be kicked out of her current (unsuitable) housing, and even though her SHSC support staff have said she can't live alone without care, the same people are saying she will have to cope until care funding is approved and put in place (several weeks away, at the hardest time of year for her).

To see Ellie fall apart like this is devastating, and despite us - her friends and family - making many complaints and calls to SHSC and NHS helplines and even the involvement of her MPs office, it feels like we are all powerless.

Ellie needs suitable, interim care and housing. She was in a suitable facility before being persuaded to move to where she is now, and believes this facility is still somewhere she could stay. But this option has been blocked to her on the grounds that her needs now are too high. When she lived there in the summer she was in a good place, and her needs now are high because of the negligence of SHSC that put her at risk of abuse in her current housing placement. She has gone in a few short months from a positive recovery to deeply depressed and hopeless - all because of bad decision making. If she was removed from her current housing placement, she believes this risk would slowly reduce, in time for her to move into her own house (with care). But SHSC just will not listen.

We - Ellie's friends - call on Sheffield Health and Social Care to do the right thing and give Ellie stable, interim emergency accommodation as she is requesting, secure until a care package is in place at her new property. She has done everything she has been asked, and give so, so much to the Trust through her work.

If Ellie is made homeless on Friday, we believe we may no longer have her at all in a few weeks time. The risk to her is so high and is completely unprecedented for her. To respond to that risk by making her homeless is negligent and dangerous. Ellie is not able to go to work at the moment to fulfill her role as patient ambassador, because of the way SHSC - her employer and care provider - are treating her. Our city is denied one of its most powerful spokespeople because she is not being provided basic care, at her most triggering time of year.

Sheffield Health and Social Care - do the right thing!


Background to the Case:

NHS professionals claim that Ellie has 'exhausted her options'. In fact, the repeated poor decision making and negligence by NHS professionals has meant that SHSC has closed off multiple options to her that may be perfectly suitable, and made her homeless and vulnerable on multiple occasions. She has also done everything she has been asked in order to push her recovery forwards,  despite these ‘solutions’ often being unsuitable and putting her in harms way in the past.

- In 2016-17 Ellie was approved external funding at a one-year hospital admission to complete the therapy for her trauma. Due to issues with management of that facility, therapy (which takes a year) was only put in place a month before her discharge, with no ongoing plan in place

- After being discharged to Sheffield without the therapy having happened, Ellie was made homeless with no plan. She was refused therapy because there as no stable housing solution, and no suitable housing was offered to her. She deteriorated rapidly and many historical issues resurfaced.

- After sofa surfing with friends which caused a range of health issues, she was placed in a SHSC contracted facility where she was physically assaulted by another resident, and little to no action was taken by SHSC

- CBT therapy was attempted at this placement, which was unsuitable for her PTSD and not the therapy that previous psychologists had identified was needed. Her apprehension about the wrong type of therapy being put in place was seen as her resistance to her own recovery

- Ellie was left with no support, and found a shared house to live in. Her housemate had to make extreme adjustments to her lifestyle in order to accommodate Ellie, which were not possible permanently.

- In Feb 2019 Ellie was admitted to a step down unit run by SHSC for a couple of weeks until suitable supported housing was found. Ellie was asked to leave her previous tenancy by SHSC in order to move into supported housing to complete therapy. She complied with this.

- Ellie found a lot of stability at this step down unit and learnt to manage her mental health much better. However there were problems with finding supported accommodation to move onto and she was repeatedly threatened with discharge into homelessness. 

 - She was then moved to the place she currently lives on the promise of therapy being completed there, in spite of many people saying this was unsuitable for her
- Since being there it was not only quickly clearly unsuitable and she hasreceived multiple accounts of abuse in this housing, but they also withdrew the offer of therapy which, it turns out, was never possible in this housing

- Ellie agreed to seek out a new private tenancy, and secured it at her own cost, on the promise of live-in care being provided there which would mean she could live there with PAs staying, and access therapy.  As above – this will not be put in place for several weeks (if approved), and she can't move in until the care is put in place

- Ellie found out on Monday 21st October she would be homeless on Friday 25th October. SHSC had been given this date by the assisted living facility a month before, and had not shared this with Ellie.

- Ellie found out on Wednesday 23rd October that there would be no care plan in place for her between her discharge on Friday 25th October and whenever the care plan is put in place, and was advised that 'friends and family' could 'sort it out'.