Another Confession From NHS England

BBC News this morning are reporting that ‘unexpected’ patient deaths reported by English mental health trusts have risen by almost 50% in three years Unexpected deaths include deaths by suicide, neglect and misadventure. The Department of Health has stated that the increase was ‘expected’ because of changes in the way that deaths are recorded and investigated. I have been aware for many years that mental health care in parts of England was and is very poor – and I will soon be blogging about the way in which some very eminent people in the English medical establishment concealed the most serious abuses in the North Wales Hospital Denbigh when it was still in operation. The Westminster Government seems to be slowly moving towards a greater honesty regarding the dire state of the mental health services in England, although as in this news report the waters are constantly muddied by the psychiatric establishment and other ‘campaigners’ maintaining that the problems are entirely related to funding, which they are most certainly not. Dishonest unethical practitioners who are concealing wrongdoing are not going to behave any better if they are given a lot of money – a lot of them are already on substantial salaries personally and it has not improved the level of care that they provide. The new honesty from Westminster is much to be admired – now can the Welsh Government follow?

I noticed that the BBC News report quotes the mental health ‘campaigner’ Marjorie Wallace, the founder and CEO of ‘SANE’. Marjorie founded ‘SANE – Schizophrenia, A National Emergency’, back in the mid 1980s and I took a particular interest in Marjorie because at that time I was struggling with the monstrous North Wales Hospital Denbigh (regular readers of this blog may have noticed my recent posts in which I have started to describe the enormity of what was happening there). Marjorie also had some knowledge of Wales and the mental health system at the time, because by then Marjorie had become famous for befriending two mute teenaged girls from Pembrokeshire who had rather inexplicably been sent to Broadmoor for ‘crimes’ that one would not have thought warranted the incarceration of two teenaged girls in a high security institution. Marjorie later wrote a book about the girls, ‘The Silent Twins’ and she continued to visit them whilst they were in Broadmoor. (One of the twins died just before they were released – which took many, many years-  and I remember hearing allegations that her death was related to the ‘medication’ that Broadmoor had loaded her up with.)

Whilst Marjorie was involved with the twins, she was working as a journalist for the Sunday Times. Now I always suspected that Marjorie knew rather more about the twins case than she let on – there are clues in her book that some of those psychiatrists at Broadmoor were not very well-motivated towards their patients and that the public services in Wales had let those twins down very badly before that, but Marjorie very obviously doesn’t dig further. I had become personally very aware of what psychiatry in Wales was capable of by then and I was very interested in what had happened to those two girls. But not only did Marjorie not publicly question any of it, she then founded SANE – which in it’s early days robustly campaigned for more use of institutions to ‘care for’ the mentally ill. Marjorie managed to get huge media coverage because of her connections as a journalist. I remember watching a TV show in which Marjorie was confronted by a group of people like me who had all had the most appalling experiences in UK psychiatric hospitals. One of them yelled out to Marjorie ‘do you know what goes on in those places?’. But Marjorie did not reply. I knew that Marjorie did know what was going on in at least one of those places – she knew what was going on in Denbigh because I had written to her and told her what had happened to me, what with Marjorie being an investigative journalist and having an interest in Wales. But Marjorie did not reply to me either.

Marjorie’s campaigning to lock more people up so incensed some people who had been on the receiving end of such ‘care’ that someone with a sense of humour formed a group called ‘MANE – Marjorie, A National Emergency’. Sadly Marjorie’s media connections were more powerful than theirs and Marjorie became a ‘spokesperson’ for the mentally ill (just like dear old MIND!) and was regularly trotted out when the media wanted to talk to an ‘expert’. Yet I never heard Marjorie speak publicly about abuse in the mental health system.

My suspicions that Marjorie had kept quiet about a few things that she certainly should have spoken about was confirmed when Jimmy Savile’s activities were exposed. In the late 1980s, Savile was of course appointed to the management committee of Broadmoor. This was at the time when ‘the twins’ were in there. It has now been revealed that Savile molested patients at Broadmoor and that at least one member of staff had tried to raise concerns regarding him raping one female patient but had been ignored. In the immediate aftermath of Savile being exposed, Marjorie was offering her pearls of wisdom to the UK press. I remember one interview in which she claimed to remember Savile ‘leaping about’ in Broadmoor and she thought that his behaviour was so bizarre that she decided that ‘the lunatics had really taken over the asylum’. You didn’t think to make this observation public at the time then Marjorie? But then Marjorie had gained quite a bit of experience in keeping quiet about unpleasant things by then. Of course, there were some very powerful people in the UK establishment at that time who were involved with the mental health system and they were doing some very strange things (I will be blogging about this soon) and I bet Marjorie knew it. Interestingly enough, Marjorie is still not very high profile when it comes to discussing the real horrors of the UK mental health system…

Since Marjorie founded SANE, the organisation has frequently been quietly criticised by people who have been involved with it, but these criticisms never seem to gain much media attention. I have heard tales of chaos on the SANE help-line, with inexperienced people being left to man the telephones who then have no idea of what to do when they are faced with a caller who is in serious distress or suicidal. I also know other mental health campaigners who perceive Marjorie to be a rather odd figure who remains strangely silent when she shouldn’t. But Marjorie doesn’t seem to have suffered as a result – she has been awarded an MBE, a CBE, ‘Campaigning Journalist of the Year (1988)’, ‘Medical Journalist of the Year’, received a British Neuroscience Award in 2002, an honorary doctorate from City University London and is a Fellow Of University College London. In 2001 she was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In 2008 she was chosen as one of the 60 most influential people in shaping the history of the NHS. No wonder she’s kept her mouth shut. (She also had an affair with Lord Snowden but she’s forgotten to add that to her Wiki entry.)

I think that senior figures in MIND have taken a leaf out of Marjorie’s book – if you want the gongs you do not talk about what happens to mental health patients. I will therefore pay tribute here to the one figure in the campaigning world who continues to speak out about just how bad mental health ‘care’ is and how many people it is killing – Deborah Coles of INQUEST. And when I contacted Deborah Coles she rang me back and we discussed the mental health services for at least an hour. You don’t get that service from Marjorie or MIND. As far as I know Deborah has not received a gong.