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Mental health service let patients down

An image from the Healthy Shetland website saying there is always support available.

A YOUNG woman from Lerwick who says it took two suicide attempts before NHS Shetland took her condition seriously is one of a number of islanders who have come forward to say they have been let down by the local mental health service.

One man said he had to leave Shetland to get a proper diagnosis, while another woman is planning to leave the islands to get the help she needs.

A fourth complains that she has been on a waiting list for five months to see a doctor, and there are still 10 people before her.

The complaints come a year after NHS Shetland beefed up its psychiatric service with extra staff after admitting they were not meeting their targets.

The health board insists that it is addressing the issues, and has urged people to complain directly to them rather than through the media.

Daisy Leask saw the first of many counsellors in 2007 aged 13, none of whom she felt tried to help her cope with her addiction to self harming, for which she was hospitalised several times between the age of 16 to 18.

Daisy Leask spent eight years seeking psychiatric help before she was given medication that worked.

It was not until she attempted suicide aged 19 that she was given an appointment with visiting psychiatric consultant, Dr Sergey Boyadjiev.

He diagnosed rapid cycling bipolar disorder, something she had thought was the case for some time.

Unfortunately the anti-psychotic medication she received left her feeling so bad she made a second attempt on her life last September after being refused admission to Aberdeen’s Royal Cornhill psychiatric hospital.

Now on the right medication for bipolar disorder, Leask describes herself as “the happiest girl in Shetland”.

But she feels let down by a mental health service she considers “very inadequate”, saying it put her through “multiple life-threatening diagnoses”.

“Shetland needs to know that these things cannot go on as common practice,” she said.

Leask says she knows several other people who have complained about being denied medication.

One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Shetland News she is planning to leave Shetland so she can get the help she needs for a long term mental health problem.

Last October she was taken by ambulance at night to Gilbert Bain Hospital, only to be sent home the next morning “without hope, nor medication”.

An appointment two weeks later with a psychiatrist left her “reeling”, when she was told she had a serious problem, but could not have medication and Shetland had no clinical psychologist who could offer therapy.

“The best bit?” she said. “I was told ‘you’re a clever girl, here’s the Royal College of Psychiatrists website – take a look and I’m sure you can figure it out’.

“I’m still not doing well and am now planning to leave Shetland so I can get the help I need.

“In the meantime I’m trying to buy medications online to try and manage the mess my head is in.”

In another case, a man who saw his doctor over a few years for anxiety and depression was deemed “not depressed enough” to merit counselling because the waiting list was too long.

He did not score highly enough on the “depression test” to receive treatment and came away feeling he was wasting the doctor’s time.

He says it was only after he moved to the UK mainland that he received “proper care”.

“There were a lot of wasted years in which I needed therapy but received no help,” he said.

Community health and social care director Simon Bokor-Ingram urges anyone with concerns about the mental health service and the treatment they receive to contact NHS Shetland directly.

“Mental health issues such as mine grow worse when they’re ignored, and the coping mechanisms I developed as a result of being left on my own with it are damaging. Something needs to change.”

Finally a teenager wrote to Shetland News saying her doctor had referred her to the child and adolescent mental health service for possible depression.

After five months she is still 11th on the waiting list, having been told that some people have had to spend a year on the waiting list before an appointment.

The Scottish government has set all health boards a waiting time target of 18 weeks for people to receive psychological therapy.

Last summer NHS Shetland started tackling its lengthy waiting lists by appointing new consultant psychiatrist Martin Scholtz and specialist doctor Almarie Harmse.

They are assisted by consultant psychiatrist Helen Dawson and consultant clinical psychologist Celina Kelley, who visit Shetland around once a month.

NHS Shetland’s director of community health and social care Simon Bokor-Ingram said patients should now be receiving a better service.

He invited those frustrated by the mental health service to raise their issues directly with NHS Shetland.

“Our mental health team has increased its staffing levels over the last year, and has clear clinical leadership in place and a programme of development,” Bokor-Ingram said.

“We take every complaint seriously, and if individuals are unhappy with their care we would encourage them to talk to someone in the team in the first instance, or to complain through the corporate route.

“The team have worked hard to reduce waiting times for the services they offer, and we are seeing positive progress.”