A student who has suffered with anorexia has claimed she had to wait two months to get help and says she believes people “have to do something dramatic” before they are noticed by mental health services in the city.
Sana Bryant, 20, described Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB) as ‘the worst mental health service she had been involved with’ after seeking treatment.
She spoke out after the provider was told it must improve following a damning investigation by Healthwatch Birmingham which found people with mental health problems who reached out were waiting months to be contacted.
Patients were also said to be receiving “insufficient care or inappropriate treatment”, while some had been prematurely discharged because of poor communication.
Miss Bryant claims she waited two months before FTB arranged for her to join an eating disorder support service last year. She said there were then further problems when a doctor said her weight was not low enough to meet the criteria for the service.
The student said she was then discharged from the service when she went on holiday to see family as she had left the country.
Miss Bryant said: “I was left without anything. I got unwell over the Christmas period and lost a lot of weight. I was going to A&E every week.
“Eating disorder services did another assessment in February and put me in but by that point my health and mental health had deteriorated so much.”
The student said she had been left with the impression mental health services only intervene where someone is in a serious situation, has harmed themselves or is “on death’s door” and that there will be many others suffering in silence with their mental health.
“I would go for a long time without any contact until I was in A&E when they would call me every day. I have been in mental health services for a long time. I have never experienced a service as bad as Forward Thinking Birmingham.
“It’s so apparent you have to do dramatic things for them to take notice of you. They certainly didn’t make me feel like they cared.”
Complaints in the Healthwatch Birmingham report included someone who said they weren’t listened to before attempting suicide and another who was waiting for weeks for a response before being told FTP couldn’t help them and to contact another service instead.
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A Birmingham mother said she broke down after claiming FTB told her it was unable to help her autistic nine-year-old son, despite an attempt on his own life and several self-harming incidents.
They recommended another service but Juliet, who only wanted to give her first name, said she does not believe it was suitable for his needs.
A letter she was sent by FTB, seen by Birmingham Live, said after “careful consideration” it had been decided the service could not treat the schoolboy. The trust which runs FTP said it wasn’t best placed to help the boy as it is not an autism service.
“I cried,” she said when asked how she reacted when he was turned down by FTP. “It’s still difficult to talk about.
“I can see he needs help. I am doing my best as a parent to provide that help but at a detriment to herself.
“What does a child have to do? What threshold does he have to meet? Does he have to be unconscious before they actually see him?”
Juliet believes difficulties knowing what is going on inside someone’s head means those struggling with their mental health don’t always get the right support.
She said: “There is this invisible barrier. If you go to a GP with a lump they will refer you because they know how to interpret it. If it is open to interpretation there is a chance it will go pear-shaped.
“He is going to be a teenager soon and I’m like ‘oh my god, how am I going to deal with this?’.”
Healthwatch Birmingham, which carried out the investigation by speaking to more than 200 children, young adults and parents about their experiences, said delays to accessing support could leave people with mental health problems “in danger”.
Service users told how they felt ignored and forgotten after being kept waiting for weeks or months for help.
Concerns around mental health have been further heightened by the pandemic and the mental health charity Mind also warned of the risks associated with people not getting urgent treatment.
FTB, which provides mental health support across the city and is run by Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust, has vowed to make improvements and bosses said an action plan had been drawn up. It also said waiting times for treatment had come down.
Richard Burden, chair of Healthwatch Birmingham, said urgent support for people suffering with mental health problems was crucial.
He said: “All too often someone or their family asks for help and it takes far too long for them to be seen.
“Time is of the essence. When people seek help they need to be able to talk to someone quickly.”
Alex Borg, executive director of mental health services for Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Trust, the lead provider for Forward Thinking Birmingham, said: “We accept there are challenges and we are working hard to overcome them and it is important to note that things have improved in a number of areas since the experiences of some of those reflected in the report, almost half of which go back two years.
“For example, our waiting list two years ago stood at over 1,700, with young people regularly waiting over 52 weeks to begin treatment. Our waiting list today stands at 393.
“Whilst we recognise and accept there are still improvements that need to be made, and that young people are still at times waiting longer than we would like, the longest waiting patient now is at 46 weeks, with three quarters of our patients starting treatment within 18 weeks, as compared to around half two years ago.”
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