In the Stratheden IPCU (intensive psychiatric care unit)/Ward 4, Fife, Scotland, February 2012, a young nurse described the seclusion room as “the naughty step”. She was on duty when my son was locked in this room for hours overnight, in the dark, for at least the fourth time. When he was forced to defecate on the floor as no-one came to let him out for the toilet despite him shouting out about it.
This young nurse stood in the corridor and observed the 3 other nurses who were holding my son face down in his own excrement, following his dirty protest. Psychiatric abuse. From which he got a glandular infection and verrucas on his foot, requiring antibiotics and months of podiatry.
Soon after this episode the young nurse, not long qualified, went down to the South of England to work.
The IPCU/Ward 4 was in the habit of housing “returners”, revolving-door patients who were well known to the nurses and who were used to the practices in the ward, likely expecting nothing more. These patients used to say that prison was better, in terms of facilities, although they weren’t asking to go back there and wouldn’t have spoken out about dehumanising treatment, I think for fear of going back to prison.
The returner patients knew the score in the IPCU. Being locked in the “cooler”, kicking chunks out of the wall, having their human rights denied. They were used to it. Seeing the nurses roll their own cigarettes in the TV room, in front of the patients. The water cooler locked in the dining room so no access to drinking water except at mealtimes or when visitors were allowed.
Plastic bottles were seen as dangerous weapons and plastic cutlery was used at mealtimes. Imaginary lines were drawn in the dining room, beyond which the patients couldn’t move or else. Their own personal food and drink was locked in cupboards to which only the nurses had the key.
The rules were there to be broken. The TV remote control was out of bounds so the patients would climb up on the furniture to change the channels. The smoking room was out of bounds to the nurses. Health and safety. So the patients could smuggle in illegal drugs and smoke them there. Also bully other patients who didn’t know the score.
This is no laughing matter. I am very annoyed at the dehumanising treatment that was perpetuated in the Stratheden IPCU under the guise of discipline towards wayward children. Bad practice that went unchecked for decades except if there were staff in charge who were principled and had emotional intelligence.
A bullying culture unchallenged by management and by other professionals who visited the ward: social workers, Mental Health Officers, police officers, GPs, voluntary sector mental health organisational staff, Mental Welfare Commission staff, MSPs, local councillors, advocates, occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, Scottish Government civil servants and others.
Ignorance is no excuse. Inaction is no defence. Someone should have blown the whistle. Foul. Penalty. Game over.