This Monday 11 April 2016, the BBC One Panorama series broadcast a scathing depiction of the conditions in which many of our young people are subject to when their mental health suffers, a widespread issue nowadays which has seen rates of teenage depression double since the 1980s. One of the most worrying aspects of the BBC documentary, which concluded that the NHS mental health system was fundamentally “dysfunctional” and “broken”, is that it is all scarily true.
The documentary highlighted the plight of a bright, young, individual, Sara Green, who carried great promise; she had a caring, compassionate, nature, excelled at writing, wished to become a doctor, and was excited about the future. Unfortunately, at the age of 14, she was horrifyingly let down by the NHS mental health service for young people (the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services otherwise known as CAMHS).
An initial assessment of Sara’s mental health, which was meant to be complete within 6-8 weeks, instead took 9 months. Making matters worse, due to the shortage of local NHS provision, Sara was required to access NHS treatment in a private hospital (The Priory) far from her home, depriving her of support from her family, friends and community, and resulting in a 200-mile round trip for her family to visit her.
BBC Panorama highlighted that nearly half of all NHS adolescent patients across the UK are sent to private hospitals at an average cost of £800 per night due to the shortage of NHS provision. The Priory Hospital itself receives eighty five per cent of its funding from the public sector.
BBC Panorama indicated that the service Sara received from The Priory was so lacking that it had left her feeling depressed at the thought of having to return there, leading to her eventual death. The Coroner’s Inquest stated that the cause of Sara’s death was not suicide, but rather self harm, and that she had not intended to take her life. The Coroner concluded the unacceptably long stay at The Priory, one hundred miles from her home, was a determining factor.
Speaking to BBC Panorama, Sarah Brennan, Chief Executive at Young Minds, concluded that the “whole system was in collapse”. Indeed, the Coroner blamed “the entire system” for Sara’s death. When pressed by BBC Panorama, neither Alastair Burt, Minister for Community and Social Care England, nor the Department of Health, knew how many young people were dying in psychiatric care. Furthermore, three quarters of hospitals had been forced to cut spending on child and adolescent mental health services.
The key issue is funding. Instead of harnessing the talent of its clinical workforce, and investing in high quality therapeutic spaces, training, qualifications and clinical supervision (all of which costs money), the Government has continued to prioritise its spend on cheaper, less qualified, staff, who are then subject to a top heavy and bullying managerial and regulatory culture, which subjugates staff to its bureaucracy, while attempting to hide NHS failings at all costs.