A mother is demanding urgent action to secure improved care for children with severe mental health problems closer to home amid a growing furore over the plight of her 13-year-old daughter.
Maisie Shaw has been treated for the last four months at an inpatient unit in Sheffield, which is the nearest to her home 60 miles away in Hull.
Diagnosed last year with autism, she suffers from anxiety and depression and has a history of self-harm, but her problems are being compounded by the distance she is being treated from her family.
A major campaign for better treatment in East Yorkshire has attracted thousands of signatures, with backing from the family’s MP Alan Johnson, a former health secretary, and Labour spin doctor Alistair Campbell, who lives with depression.
Maisie’s mother Sally Burke, who was forced to give up her job as a primary school teacher to care for her daughter last year, said Maisie had always been “strong-minded and challenging” but 18 months ago her school reported concerns about her writing about taking her life.
She was referred to mental health services but in December 2013 she returned home one day to find Maisie, then 12, trying to stab herself. She was taken for treatment in hospital in Hull before a bed was found for her at a unit 113 miles and three hours drive away in Stafford.
Her mother, 38, said: “It was five days before Christmas, she’d never experienced anything like that and it was quite a scary place.”
She was there for a month but the children in the unit were older. She saw some horrifying scenes including violence before Maisie herself was beaten up.
They had already been pleading for a bed closer to home but after the incident she contacted Mr Johnson and very quickly she was transferred to the Becton Unit in Sheffield, just over an hour’s drive away, which deals with youngsters aged 10-14.
She stayed until April last year and continued to receive help from community mental health services Ms Burke says have faced further cuts on top of a previous decision by NHS England ordering the closure of inpatient beds in Hull in 2013.
But Maisie suffered a relapse in November when she again attempted to take her life. She was taken to the infirmary in Hull but, in a further sign of pressures on services, no crisis mental health staff were available until after the weekend and it was agreed she could have a bed on a children’s surgical ward only if her mother stayed with her.
Specialists were due to assess her in Middlesbrough but Maisie had managed to conceal a blade and cut herself again. Due to a lack of alternatives, Maisie was placed in a side room, while a security guard was stationed outside amid concerns for the well-being of other children.
She was transferred back to Sheffield on December 3 and has remained there ever since. Part of her condition means she copies the behaviour of others and her mother says the unit is not the best place for her.
Above all, she is lonely. Due to the distance, family members visit her three or four times a week in contrast to others in the unit who see familiar faces every day.
“She’s very homesick,” said her mother. “Her granddad visited her this week and she was saying how lonely she feels. He’s a man of 65, he rushed from work to see her, he’s her granddad and he has to leave her like that. It’s taken it’s toll on all of us.”
Since launching the campaign for Maisie’s return home and the provision of 24/7 inpatient and crisis mental health care for children in the area she has won support from other families in the same position and spoken at an event in Parliament.
“We’ve heard of one patient from the area whose gone to Scotland because there are no beds in England. It’s just horrific,” she said.