A suicidal woman waited eight hours for assessment in a busy A&E — and was then sent home because there were no hospital beds available, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Hollie, who has asked for her surname to be withheld, went to the emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast in February after cutting her wrist.
Despite repeatedly telling staff there she wanted to kill herself, she waited eight hours to be assessed by a specialist, was left unsupervised in a cubicle and then was sent home when doctors could not find a bed for her.
She was so upset by the response that she has written to Health Minister Edwin Poots to highlight the shocking lapses in care received by a patient desperately in need of emergency treatment.
“It took all the strength I had to go to A&E and I was left feeling like nobody cared,” she explained.
“I was seen quite quickly by someone who cleaned up my wound, but then I was expected to sit back out in the public waiting area even though I was clearly distressed, sobbing, and telling them I wanted to die.
“I waited until the early hours of the morning until someone from the mental health team came to assess me.
“I told him I wanted to finish killing myself, I kept telling him that and he said he was so worried about me the only safe option was to admit me.
“He went away to get me a bed, but when he came back he said there were no beds available so he would have to send me home.”
She continued: “He asked me if he could phone my mum to come and get me and I told him I didn’t want her to know, but he said he had no option.
“Eventually I agreed and my mum came to collect me.
“At that stage, no-one mentioned anything about my suicide attempt or that I was suicidal.
“We left the hospital and no-one gave my mum any advice on how to care for me.”
Staff there also failed to give Hollie a card with details of a follow-up appointment.
The Card Before You Leave scheme was supposed to be rolled out across Northern Ireland in 2010 and was designed to reduce the number of suicides here.
Under the scheme, any patient being discharged from an inpatient ward or A&E who requires ongoing attention from mental health teams should receive a card prior to discharge, giving details of contact numbers for support, and of how follow-up care will progress.
Hollie added: “We never got any of that and my family had to all take time off work over the next six weeks so I could be supervised 24 hours a day.
“Part of my illness means I feel a burden to people, and knowing what my condition was doing to the people I love most made me even worse.
“It has been totally devastating for me and my family. I feel like I was really let down that night.”
A Belfast Health & Social Care Trust spokeswoman said she could not comment on individual cases.
However, she said the Card Before You Leave service is provided to people who have been seen and are deemed low risk or decide to leave against medical advice or before triage or mental health assessment is carried out.
She said all staff are trained to identify any triage patients with mental health issues.
If necessary, they are referred to the mental health service and a management plan is then put together based on their individual requirements.
Hollie's letter to Health Minister Edwin Poots
Hollie has written a letter to Health Minister Edwin Poots and Colm Donaghy, chief executive of the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust, to raise concerns about her treatment.
It said: “For eight hours I sat alone and in distress in the emergency department contemplating suicide. For eight hours I wondered why I was there, why I hadn’t just kept quiet and not asked for help, and all the pain would have been over by now.
“It took all the strength I had in myself to make my way to A&E and to ask for that help and I blamed myself for the poor treatment I received, telling myself I didn’t deserve to be helped.
“Public awareness campaigns constantly drum into the nation that if you are in mental distress to seek immediate emergency help but it seems clear to me now that the message is only retrospective advice for those who have already taken their own lives and not those fighting the urge to die.
“As it is, I would never encourage someone in distress to go to A&E. As am employee of the Belfast Trust I am additionally pained by the incapability and insensitivity of our services and I would point out that my absence from work due to my mental health could potentially have been shortened if I was given the appropriate treatment and help.”