Mental Health Care in Private Hospitals – Guest Post by Broken Mind

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When people think of private psychiatric hospitals they often automatically think high quality. If you were given the choice of being a patient in a NHS hospital or a private hospital what would you choose?

Well I would choose NHS without a shadow of a doubt. When you think of a private hospital do you think of good staffing levels, good quality therapy in abundance, pleasant and spacious surroundings, plenty of activities and good food? Well in my experience that is not the case.

I spent 6 months as an NHS patient before being outsourced to a private hospital. When I was first told I was being sent to a private hospital I thought I’d hit the jackpot. I thought it would be much nicer than the hospital I was in and that I would get lots of therapy that I desperately needed.

When I first pulled up at the hospital I was a little disappointed, it wasn’t like I had imagined. I was even more disappointed when I walked on the ward straight into this shabby looking communal area. I was escorted to my room and I soon came to realise that there wasn’t much to this ward at all; in fact it was tiny and claustrophobic. It didn’t take me long to realise that this private hospital wasn’t like I had imagined at all. This was a hospital designed solely for NHS funded patients and it was nothing more than a money making machine. Nobody in their right mind would privately pay to be there. Within hours I desperately wanted to go back to the NHS hospital.

There were many things wrong with the hospital. From understaffing that was often dangerous to a complete lack of activities. Staffing was a really major problem. Quite often the place was so understaffed that we patients suffered significantly and on some occasions felt unsafe. Patients would quite regularly have their section 17 escorted leave cancelled due to short staffing and believe me in a place like that you value immensely any time you have away from the place.

The hospital struggled to keep permanent staff due to low wages and poor treatment and as a result we had plenty of agency staff. There were many agency staff coming through our doors daily and I am sure you will agree consistency is important when you are unwell and you need to be able to build up good therapeutic relationships. Apart from the inconsistency, agency staff posed to be problematic in other ways such as the incompetency that was often bordering on scary for a secure hospital. But it wasn’t just the agency staff that were incompetent many permanent qualified nurses were just as bad.

One of the things that bothered me quite a lot whilst there was the fact the place relied heavily on support workers. The least qualified and lowest paid members of staff were the ones that had most contact with us and did more for us than all the other members of staff combined. It was routine for a shift to have only 2 qualified nurses who were basically there to give out medication and do paperwork. They had little contact with us. Of cause this was down to money.

The rehab ward of the hospital didn’t have any qualified nurses at all on a shift and was run by support workers alone. Another money saving scheme. After a CQC inspection they pretty quickly had nurses back on the ward after they were told that that wasn’t allowed. Few nurses plus more support workers equals less money on wages and more profit made. There were a few decent staff but of cause they were eventually driven away.

Another thing fundamentally wrong with the place was lack of activities. Often it felt like we were being just locked up in this confined space and expected to stare at a wall. The activity room, if you can call it that was so small you could barely fit 3 patients and 1 staff in it and for a ward of 15 patients that isn’t good. There was a group timetable for the hospital but there were often long gaps between these and often groups were cancelled. This was mainly due to lack of space in the hospital being that groups took place in the main meeting room which was the only place that tribunals, managers panels and CPAs also took place.

Lack of space was a big problem, it was like they had crammed everything into the smallest space possible to maximise profits. There were no designated therapy rooms and therefore therapy would take place in the most random of rooms with one patient once having to have a therapy session in the telephone room.

There were not enough psychologists for everybody which you wouldn’t expect for a private hospital. I was detained there for over a year before I even started individual therapy and that was only because I insisted. One member of staff once told me I wasn’t priority enough for therapy as there wasn’t enough to go around. The only therapy I really did whilst I was there for 18 months was D.B.T. I was practically forced into it with them basically saying that engagement with it was the only way out of there. Consequently because of that experience I now hate D.B.T which could probably have helped me on my path to recovery.

The food was shocking too. I believe the daily budget for food for an individual was something ridiculous like a few pounds when considering the amount of money it cost for us to be there was absolutely shocking.

The cost of being there I’m not 100% sure but a few figures were flown about ranging from 4 thousand to 7 thousand per week. As patients in the hospital we were all very aware that the hospital only really cared about money. It was a business and therefore it was minimum expenditure to maximise profits.

Little money was given for activities, food etc. We all felt like they didn’t really give a monkey about us as people.

This was highlighted by the major building work that was undertaken whilst I was there. We faced significant disruption to our lives on the ward because they wanted to build a new ward on top of us. This was because they had realised of the shortage of personality disorder units available to NHS funded patients and wanted to cash in on this.

We were given £5 hush money towards a weekly takeaway bearing in mind before the building work we were only allowed monthly takeaways for health reasons.

We were also promised weekend trips to get us away from the disruption but of course they went back on their word.

The building work cemented to us they didn’t care about us but money alone.

We moved up to the new ward when it was completed.

I got discharged 4 weeks later but I’ve since heard from friends still there they had to move back to the old ward as the new ward started falling to pieces and was deemed unsafe. It doesn’t surprise you does it that they threw the building up quickly and consequently it was poor quality?

The whole hospital was a poor quality and falling apart even though the hospital was relatively new. The office leaked quite substantial amounts of water when it rained.

So that is my experience of private hospital.

It wasn’t a good one, not by a long shot.

I spent every day wishing I was back in a NHS hospital.

I could write so much more about my experiences but I would be here for a long time. The only thing that I have really gained from being in there is a motivation to keep myself as well as I possibly can from fear of ending back up in a place like that again.

Recently the hospital was in local press about how bad it was after a poor CQC inspection. They mentioned the dangerous staffing levels and poor patient safeguarding. The hospital issued a statement saying it had improved but according to my friends still detained there it is still the same as ever. I’m sure there are good private hospitals out there.

But don’t be fooled that just because a hospital is private it means that it is good.

Many thanks to Brokenmind for sharing this experience, please check out her Blog – Borderline Tragedy

Broken Mind – I am a 24 year old woman suffering from borderline personality disorder. After things getting too much for me and I suppose suffering a breakdown at university I was detained under the mental health act. I spent a total of 2 years in hospital before being released in November 2011. I am currently trying to get my life back on track. I do struggle some days but it’s still early days.


8 comments on “Mental Health Care in Private Hospitals – Guest Post by Broken Mind

  1. It sounds like a bad experience you had in this private hospital but they are not all like this. Whilst I have not been an inpatient in a private hospital I was an outpatient for 18 months (self funded) and the standard of care and understanding I got from my chosen psychiatrist was far better than what I experienced on the NHS over the years. I suspect people I know who where private patients in there would say they were happy with their care as well. Given the fact my health has declined over the past six weeks and has largely been ignored by the NHS (therapist, care co-ordinator) I am considering going back to see my private psych but oh I forgot the NHS gave me a choice long term therapy on the NHS a specific group for BPD for 18-months or forget that and stay with a private psych… seems the NHS found it impossible to work with a private psych!

    • Yes Broken Mind said she could actually have said a lot more about the horrible experiences she had at this hospital! I’ve only had private outpatient psychotherapy myself which is good, I’ve been on NHS waiting list since Oct 2010 and no idea if/when anything will actually come of it! Services are just not good enough on either side of the public/private divide :/

  2. i am currently awaiting replies to serious complaints from the private-nhs referal where my daughter is being cared for-supposedly.
    at least 30= code of practice from the mental health act are ignored,serious untoward incident reports 3 to date that i know about just ignored.
    post incident reviews-ignored-bullying-threats by staff to service users.
    i really would like to know what hospitals people have experienced.
    where my daughter is,is 1 of 13 hospitals in the group of which 5 at least are way below the cqc standards

  3. Thanks for attaching your blog url to my blog post on Australian hospital care. I always knew private hospitals were not generally as good as public in both our countries- and also in Canada and Italy at least. Private psych hospitals in Australia are mainly run on the cheap- they recently compelled them to have a senior nurse on duty at nights because only nursing assistants and those “care” workers were on usually. Many of these private hospitals don’t have a duty doctor either, and call up a locum pool if something happens during the night. I’ve never been in a psych hospital as a patient, but I’ve spent many years in psych wards of public hospitals as a researcher and have visited many private facilities to interview patients. Sometimes I have come across the odd excellent programme for a particular diagnosis at a private hospital that was outstandingly good. However, this was usually because a specialist psychiatrist or psychologist tended to place a specific patient group there that they knew how to treat successfully with selected techniques, For instance one hospital had a good post-natal depression program and another had a great personality disorders unit. However the majority of places I visited felt like rather loopy old-fashioned guest houses, with idiosyncratic staff, strange routines and an odd assortment of patients.
    As for physical problems- some private hospitals here are renowned for their oncology or orthopaedic or cardiac units- they’re “famous” amongst patients and justly so, because several doctors have got together, had the wards designed, hand-picked the staff and they implement the latest diagnostic and therapeutic technologies at a fairly high price. There’s a great cardiac unit where one of my friends goes to get his stents placed, monitored and revised and I’ve never heard of anyone having a single post-op problem. Other private hospitals are just rip-offs where doctors make extra money and don’t always use the best techniques because the patients are going to pay for anything done with add-on private health insurance. Public hospitals often get to patch up the mistakes- so consequently, when the doctors are working in the public hospitals they are extra careful to not give themselves repeat work!
    Many may object to what I have said, but I’ve seen the genuine figures on public vs. private in Australia and on average, public hospitals give you far better value as a patient. And I guess private hospitals give the doctors far better value per hour of their time.

    • It really is disgraceful that even if you pay for your own care you aren’t guaranteed to get a good or better standard of care. I guess the business model and profit lines, as well as ‘competition’ play a part in this!? I can imagine things will only get worse as the state continue to remove and reduce resources in public facilities leaving people feeling they have to go private to access anything at all! 😦

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  5. broken mind i can assure you i am 100% with you i would like to know which hospital and i believe if any one can help with this i would be gratefull that we should pool our experiences and try to get some action to protect the vulnerable users.
    please read the cqc report on middleton st george hospital near darlington-it is frightening but similar to your own experience-lets put pressure on the cqc to find some teeth

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