Fast forward

04 September 2016

meadows 2016
Derelict and awaiting demolition

Fast forward to 2016. This year. The Meadows closed for business in 2012. It died slowly, at some point around 2009 becoming a secure unit. Part of the building was fenced off, a sturdy wire barrier, 8 ft. high prevented the inmates from wandering into the woods or down the footpath and out onto the road, turning right up to the Esso garage to buy crisps or chocolate – or, as I had done, in later stays in 1999, razor blades and paracetamol. Or left, down to the shopping centre to down a few beers or white wines in the Lock Stock and Barrel.

There were never enough beds to meet the needs of those, like me, who pitched up in need of peace and quiet and respite. It was designed for 20 inpatients, drawn from the whole of Fareham and Gosport’s population of around 200,000 people. From the day it opened, bed shortages meant constant juggling of those ready (or not) to be discharged so that someone in desperate need could be admitted. (Knowle, in 18   had housed 2,000 lunatics albeit in over crowded, less than ideal conditions.

Presumably, the new unit was premised on the belief that with the new super drugs, the SSRI antidepressants and ‘2nd generation’ antipsychotics, the requirement for inpatient stays would simply wither away. Depression and psychosis would become straightforward illnesses, dealt with by the GP with a prescription for pills. That vision was both shortsighted and actually fairly stupid (how did anyone know, back then, whether the new drugs would be a miracle cure?).

At the time it was built, Portsmouth NHS Trust was in charge. Then the Hampshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (lost in the far mists of linguistic obscurity, a ‘Partnership’ Trust was always a mental health one, although who the ‘partner’ was I have no idea). In 2011 it was ‘acquired’ by Southern Health.  Southern Health Foundation Trust was a greedy outfit: gobbling up the provision of mental health and disability services from Oxford to Portsmouth – along with community hospitals, chiropody, diabetes education, scans, occupational therapy, speech and language and ‘quit smoking’ services. Southern Health promptly closed the Meadows. Full stop. The community mental health teams were slashed at the same time – no one seems to have asked how closing a hospital and decimating community care simultaneously was supposed to help the patients. It simply cut the budget.

It isn’t easy to find any information about how long people now have to wait to see a psychiatrist, get referred to a community team or access to what passes as psychological help (if you’re not keen on CBT’s Stalinist approach then forget it anyway, as that’s all you’ll get). It is easy to discover how hard it is to get into a psychiatric hospital – quick answer: you won’t unless you are so bonkers everyone gets scared and finds a bed in a secure unit – maybe a long way from home. Help for children and adolescents has simply crumbled.

Southern Health has been bogged in an unedifying scandal for the past year anyway. Connor Sparrowhawk, a young man with epilepsy drowned in a bath, unattended and locked in, in one of Southern Health’s specialist units and the carpet was lifted on widespread negligence and unsafe care throughout its empire. Many people had died. The CEO hung on, in the teeth of scathing criticism and has only just left her post – nipping smartly into another senior role at Southern Health.  I do wonder, in a ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ kind of way, what on earth happened to notions of decency, honourable behaviour and taking personal responsibility for deaths that happen on your watch. But, I guess, the NHS has become a business, run on corporate principles and if GSK, or Eli Lilly or any of the Big Pharma behemoths that sell drugs that sometimes kill not heal can sit tight and deny responsibility – why shouldn’t Katrina Percy?

The Meadows was open for 15 years. Around £1 million for each year of its short life. Doesn’t seem like a good use of NHS money to me, and in the meantime – what happens to those in need of real asylum? It’s a scandal that has ducked under the radar of public scrutiny but it is – shameful.