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‘Treated like an animal’: NHS nurse attempted suicide twice while waiting 10 days for hospital bed

A senior mental health nurse suffered “degrading and humiliating” treatment while she languished for 10 days on an unsuitable NHS ward during a mental health crisis, The Independent has been told.

Rachel Luby, 36, was admitted to Basildon Hospital A&E in Essex on 5 January this year after attempting to take an overdose of over-the-counter medicine following a traumatic assault.

This, she claimed, was the start of weeks of horrific care she endured while waiting for a mental health bed. It culminated in her being restrained and forced into a caged van “like an animal”.

Luby was admitted to Basildon Hospital A&E in Essex in January after attempting to take an overdose (Rachel Luby)
Luby was admitted to Basildon Hospital A&E in Essex in January after attempting to take an overdose (Rachel Luby)

She revealed her story after The Independent reported on a warning from top emergency doctors that self-harming and suicidal patients who go to A&E are not being treated with compassion because staff are overwhelmed.

Ms Luby, an award-winning nurse, said she waited more than a week and a half in a general hospital before she was moved to a bed on a mental health ward.

During this time, she said she was forced to sit in an open ward with other patients who could overhear doctors telling her she was suicidal.

Luby: ‘It horrifies me to think what is happening to people that are far more vulnerable than me’ (Rachel Luby)
Luby: ‘It horrifies me to think what is happening to people that are far more vulnerable than me’ (Rachel Luby)

Ms Luby was able to leave the ward and find medication to overdose again, despite staff allegedly assessing her as a risk. In a second incident, she went to the bathroom and attempted to take her own life.

She told The Independent: “I feel that this is something I will not recover from. I will not ever reach out for help in the future.

“If this is the treatment that I’m getting as a nurse, then what the heck is happening to those that don’t have the voice or education that I have? It horrifies me to think what is happening to people that are far more vulnerable than me.”

Her story follows a series of revelations by this publication about the state of mental health care in Britain, including how thousands of children in mental health crisis are being treated on inappropriate general wards – with some forced to stay for more than a year.

Research uncovered by The Independent also shows patients are often being held unlawfully within A&Es due to long waits to access mental health care.

Ms Luby qualified as a mental health nurse in 2016 and won an award in 2019 for a project focused on improving the approach to sexual health within mental health services.

According to Ms Luby, she was assessed as needing admission under the Mental Health Act on arrival at Basildon Hospital at the beginning of this year.

The mental health team triaged her but then left the ward, without sorting out a staff member to observe her or alerting the hospital ward staff, she claimed. She pleaded with them to be seen by a specialist – but staff apparently refused to come.

When a bed opened up 12 miles away in a unit based in Rochford, which has been the subject of a shocking Panorama exposé, her father objected to the section, amid concerns about the care she might receive.

Luby says she sustained serious head injuries after self-harming in a caged van (Rachel Luby)
Luby says she sustained serious head injuries after self-harming in a caged van (Rachel Luby)

Under the Mental Health Act, if a nearest relative objects to a section, then clinicians have to apply to a court to override it. In Ms Luby’s case, no court order was pursued but the hospital still forced her to move to the Rochford unit, she says.

In a video, obtained via subject access request, staff from a private patient transport company can be seen forcibly moving Ms Luby from Basildon Hospital, despite her protests and claims it had not followed the correct legal processes.

At one point in the video, a staff member can be heard saying: “They don’t realise they have no rights when they’re under section.”

“It was degrading and humiliating,” she said. “I know every effort should have been made to de-escalate the situation and that to physically touch someone is traumatising or re-traumatising (as it was in my case) and should be a last resort.

“The 11-minute duration of the video felt like 11 hours. I continue to have flashbacks, nightmares, and am unable to tolerate people – particularly males – being in my personal space.”

At the end of the video Ms Luby is put into the back of a caged van – similar to those used by police – and taken to a holding room, which is designed to be for patients who are sectioned by police, in a different location.

Recalling the ordeal, Ms Luby said she “felt like an animal in a cage”.

“I was so disassociated, [I felt] like it was such extreme violence towards me,” she said. “If you put a person in a cage and treat them like a tiger in a cage, you will react like an animal. But it wasn’t to anyone else, it wasn’t to anyone else it was to myself.”

While in the van, she claims she obtained serious injuries after attempts at self-harm. She claims she didn’t receive medical treatment for a further 12 hours after being put into the holding space, known as a section 136 room.

In response to complaints made by Ms Luby, both Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Basildon Hospital, and Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust (Eput), which runs mental health services, said they could not identify where excessive restraint was used.

A spokesperson for Eput said: “We cannot comment on an individual case but any allegations raised by a patient will be fully investigated in line with our policies.”

Diane Sarkar, chief nursing and quality officer at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said the trust had been in contact with Ms Luby about the care she received at Basildon and if she has further concerns she would like to discuss, it would be happy to speak to her again.