This blog is by Ella SHAW, author of Trying My Patients — it struck a chord with me for various reasons that will all become clear and is reproduced with permission. Apart from the very obvious 999 grandstanding about purported superior knowledge of the Mental Capacity Act compared to one of Her Majesty’s finest constables(!), it is all entirely true. I’ve tended to find the second best emergency service have to get their digs in whilst they can so we can agree to let them have this one because it’s Christmas. 🙂
FIVE HOURS EARLIER
As I walked into the room he was laying facedown on the bed, arm hanging over the side and bleeding heavily. A constant stream of blood was trickling out into the ever increasing pool on the floor. He was seemingly unconscious and very pale. I applied some significant pressure to the wound in the bend of his arm whilst trying to find out what had happened. It turns out that he wasn’t unconscious but just playing dead. Within a minute or so he was up and talking, full of bravado and attitude. I applied a pressure dressing to the wound and bound it up relatively tightly.
In terms of numbers he was OK. His pulse and blood pressure were stable and was showing no signs of shock despite the blood loss. That said, he needed to go to hospital. Clearly this was a cry for help and I wouldn’t be happy leaving him on his own. For a suicidal self harmer however, he was surprisingly up beat. Very chatty, very well spoken and extremely knowledgable about mental health law. He quickly made it very apparent he was not going to be going to hospital under any circumstances and was well aware that currently the ball was in his court. I had hoped some well chosen words and my power of persuasion could have made inroads with him but he was as determined as he was smug.
Plan B then. If I couldn’t force him to go to hospital, then I had to bring the most relevant bits of hospital to him. I discussed options with him and we settled on getting an out-of-hours GP to visit to ensure the wound was clean and appropriately dressed and then contact a mental health crisis team who WILL visit within two hours. Well, that’s what they are supposed to do! He was happy with the plan, his dad was happy with the plan and seemed in good spirits. I wasn’t happy with the plan but that was probably fed by the compulsion to do something for someone in crisis and not getting my own way. The patient had capacity so this was the best I could do! At a stretch the fact he was drunk could effect his capacity but I was able to have a more than rational conversation with about the pros and cons of staying and going and depute my disagreement with his opinion, it was after all his opinion and ultimately, his choice.
*REMEMBER THIS MOMENT*
At this point, no ambulance had arrived, so I phoned control, to tell them that the patient was refusing treatment so no ambulance was required.
“We also have the police running on this CAD, would you like them cancelled too?”
“Rog, patient is compliant and isn’t being aggressive. Cancel police.”
“Rog, thank you, red base out.”
I explained to the patient and his dad that I needed to go and get my paperwork and phone various people to arrange the referral. I needed to speak to our Clinical Support Desk, the GP and the Mental Health crisis team and that could take a little while to get the ball rolling. What I did assure them of, was that I wouldn’t be leaving until I knew exactly when someone would be coming.
I went down to the car and started my phone calls. Midway through my first conversation there was a knock on the window. It was the dad looking rather panicked.
“He’s done it again, I can’t wake him, it’s bleeding everywhere.”
I hung up the phone and rushed (Ambulance Run – above average walk) into the house and back upstairs. As I got to the landing I could hear the blood pouring onto the wooden floor. He was now lying on his back, other arm hanging over the edge of the bed and blood was literally pouring out of him. He was white as a ghost and unconscious. Again, I applied pressure and held his arm as high as I could. I was now in an extremely awkward situation. *REMEMBER THAT MOMENT*
I was on my own with a bleed I was struggling to control. I had cancelled the ambulance and considering I had already waited 40 minutes and one never arrived, the chance of getting one instantly was minimal. I had also cancelled the police, who in this situation could be of great use!
“You see the radio on my belt, twist it off, hold down ‘*’ to remove the key lock, then hold down ‘#’ (priority) for me.”
His dad followed my instructions and within a couple of seconds the radio started ringing.
“Hold down the button on the side for me.”
“Red base, patient has cut himself again, I need the police and an ambulance as a priority, I’m struggling to control the bleeding.”
“Rog, will do that for you now, nearest ambulance is some distance away, sorry!”
“Right, take the key off my belt loop, in the boot is a big black bag with ‘Paramedic’ written on it. Bring me that bag please.”
Off he ran (non-ambulance run – actual running – weird phenomenon). I managed to apply a pressure dressing to the arm which seemed to do the trick. This time bound even tighter than the first! On his return I got his dad to hold the arm in the air, allowing me to do other stuff. His blood pressure was in his boots so I got a cannula in him (for the medical lot, an orange in the back of the hand, sadistic git that I am) and started running some fluids through. The patient gradually became more coherent and was soon back and telling me to go away and leave him alone. Unfortunately for him and luckily for me, the leaving alone option was no longer viable.
First to my aid was the police. They helped me with everything I was doing and also attempted to convince the patient that now hospital was a must. He was having none of it.
“You can’t section me, I’m old enough to make my decisions and I’m not going to hospital. There is nothing you can do to make me go.”
“I think you’ll find we can.”
“What powers are you going to use to take me from my own home, a place of safety, right here and now. You can’t do anything legal and you know it.”
The poor copper looked a little stumped and unfortunately had no answer for him which somewhat undermined his authority.
Although the patient had apparent capacity to refuse treatment, on balance I now felt I had reasonable grounds to use the Mental Capacity Act to enforce treatment. As far as I was now concerned he lacked capacity to make an informed decision and didn’t appreciate the severity of his injuries. Unfortunately for the patient, he came up against someone with greater knowledge of mental health law than him. I was able to quote section 4(B) of the MCA at him and outline why the deprivation of his liberty was necessary. My rationale was because my proposed treated was wholly or partly for the purpose of giving life saving treatment to him and that, as the medical professional currently in charge of his wellbeing, I was well within my right to ensure he got treatment.
I explained all this in quite a self gratifying speech which left the patient looking rather deflated!
“Aaaaahhh, you just got schooled on the law by a paramedic, aren’t the police supposed to know more?! Embarrassing!”
I felt a little awkward but luckily the copper took it on the chin and seemed happy to follow my lead and confirmed to the patient that I could do what I was saying. I also backed that up by telling him that under section 6 of the MCA he could be retrained by the police to ensure said life saving treatment happened and to prevent further harm to himself or us. Faced with three people who were much more well read on mental health law than he was, he quickly got on board with what was going to happen and became compliant.
When the ambulance arrived he came voluntarily and was most apologetic to all of us. His initial reluctance to go to hospital was easily explained ……
FIVE HOURS EARLIER
The hospital is very busy, majors and minor are full and the waiting room is at bursting point. The triage nurse listens to a young guy tell her he has been drinking and apparently takes no notice of his medical history and wish to die, so puts him in the waiting room where he waits…..and waits. After 4 hours he got up and left. His cry for help had been ignored by mental health services and his local hospital. He got on a bus and went home where he carried on drinking. And drinking.
He then smashed a glass, picked up a shard and rammed it into the crook of his arm. He then called his dad who was downstairs, to tell him what he had done. His dad phoned 999.
“My son has self harmed, he is bleeding from his arm quite heavily.”
“OK sir, help is on the way.”
“23 year old male, self harm, serious bleeding, access OK”
Luckily I was only round the corner so was on scene within a minute or so. I grabbed all my stuff and headed up the path for my first mental health of the night……
A patients outcome, positive or negative should not be based on luck. Luck that I was close by. Luck that his dad was in the house to find him bleeding when he did. Luck that the bleeding was stopped and he was quickly treated. This should be the basic of mental health care. There are services in place to not only treat this demographic of patients but to safeguard the risks that are associated with their conditions. A patient in crisis and at significant risk of harm should have instant access to their crisis team. Time and time again mental health services are impossible to access outside of ‘Mon-Fri 9am-5pm’. It just isn’t good enough. With the glaring failings in an understaffed, under trained and underfunded system, the safety net is always A & E. However, combine deep cuts, fed up staff and lack of training with winter pressures and a waiting room full of time wasters and the basics are simply overlooked.
There was no RAID (Rapid, Assessment, Interface and Discharge) or other liaison service made available or seemingly in place to allow a quick assessment of him. There was also no apparent risk assessment. After only 5 minutes with the guy and a limited knowledge of the Pierce scale of suicidal intent, I had him at a high risk of significant harm. His medical history and presentation alone raised enough Red Flags to warrant a rapid assessment. Instead he was left to his own devices in a waiting room of a busy hospital. Hardly the place for a vulnerable, suicidal young adult to be left. This job highlights the woeful inadequacies of mental health care from top to bottom of the NHS. When will this improve?!
So, mental health care in the NHS — discuss.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.