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Mad Covid Voices, with Frankie

19th April 2020

How has the ward changed since COVID19?

For a couple of weeks it was a lot quieter, because the way this mental health trust has been working has been that any new patients get sent to one specific ward for two weeks to check they don’t have Coronavirus symptoms before coming here – which is the ‘clean’ ward. So for a while there were only 8 of us on a 15 bed ward that’s normally full, but now the patients are starting to come in after that two weeks. For a while all staff had to wear gloves, masks, and aprons all of the time they were in, which as an autistic person I find particularly difficult because I can’t do eye contact so I judge what… I try and guess what people are feeling by what their mouth does and when they’re wearing a mask that’s really difficult. Earlier in the week they changed it so they don’t have to wear gloves and aprons anymore, but they’re still wearing masks, and they’re doing a lot of cleaning, which can be quite disturbing through the night. 

How have those changes affected your mental health? 

The ward being quieter was good, but I think they’re also trying to discharge people quicker. They’re trying to get people out, which for me has been quite stressful because i’m potentially getting discharged next week, and I only got told about this a few days ago. Especially as community teams aren’t doing a lot of work in the community at the moment. On the ward we’ve had more staff from the therapies team who normally work in the community on the ward, which has been really good – we’ve had more therapeutic activities going on which has been I think really good for everybody. But the whole situation is quite stressful. Oh, the biggest change I forgot to say – we’re on lockdown, so there’s no leave and no visitors and haven’t been for 4 weeks now. I dunno why I forgot that. That’s had a huge negative impact, because… I kinda just want to see my mum. Also not being able to go on leave means not being able to go for a walk, i’m sleeping a lot worse because I’m not getting any exercise, and it’s also going to be very difficult getting discharged when I haven’t been outside in 4 weeks. That’s a big change. 

How is the experience of self isolating in your room? (have you been able to access support from staff, food, meds, things to do etc)

About the time that ward went into lockdown, which was a bit before the whole country did, we were given leaflets that explain if anyone displays Coronavirus symptoms then they would be isolated in their room for two weeks and not be allowed to leave at all, but that hasn’t happened so far. But the food suppliers are cutting back what they’re doing at the moment, so there’s a lot less variety and choice, and there’s been quite a few of the housekeeping staff off, so there’s been quite a few where it’s just been some cold bits of dinner and stuff. 

There hasn’t been any change to access to mediation, but it’s definitely difficult being in this place and not being allowed any visitors or anything. It also means that the advocates can’t come onto the wards – for example they can’t be in ward round with you, nor are any external agencies, like my social worker can’t come either, or even my care coordinator. So they haven’t been involved in ward rounds for a month now, over a month. I haven’t had a tribunal in this time, but the people who have done I think have found them quite difficult, because they’re happening over the phone and they’re not being told of decisions as quickly as they would normally. Like it’s sometimes because the panel are also meeting over the phone, they can’t take over a day to make a decision – whereas normally they’d be deliberating for probably less than half an hour, so that’s been difficult for people as well. 

Have decisions been made about your care (leave, discharge, CTO etc) that you believe wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for COVID19? 

Yeah. The place that I’m probably getting discharged to is normally a house that people can go stay in when they’re in the community for a week, to try and stop them reaching crisis point. It’s just like a Monday to Friday thing. But with the Covid stuff that’s kind of been turned into a step down house, so people can stay there for 8 to 12 weeks. The placement where I was in before was a residential home where I had 15 hours a day of 1 to 1 support, and they’re now probably going to discharge me to this house where, yes there are staff there 24/7, but it’s definitely not the same level of staffing at all, and I’m expected to be able to cook and do my washing, cleaning, all that stuff that partly I don’t know how to do, and partly my anxiety is far too bad to actually be able to do even if I did know how. I’m just… especially given how community teams aren’t really doing very much at the moment, i’m quite concerned that’s not something that’s going to work out, and this isn’t something that would be happening during not-corona times. They’re just trying to get people out of hospital, but being put in short-term placements that they’ve then got to move again, and… yeah. 

Is there anything else you would like to tell us? 

I just think there’s already a huge power imbalance on psych wards between the staff and patients, but this had just made it so much worse because you now can’t have anybody advocating for you in the ward rounds, and tribunals aren’t working in the same way they normally do, and there really does seem to be a focus on just getting people out of here as soon as possible. Even when, a few of the patients who’ve been discharged recently there have been a number of us, other people on the ward, who, obviously we’re not the experts, but really we didn’t think they were at a point in normal times they would’ve been discharged, and i’m really worried that’s going to have some really quite serious effects for people when there’s just phone support from community teams, apart from in very exceptional circumstances and stuff. It’s actually quite dangerous what’s going on.

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