A woman says she faced “nightmare” treatment by the county’s mental health provider following the closure of female psychiatric beds in Lancaster.
Mother-of-two Rebecca Wilkinson, from Caton, said she had to take to Twitter to sort out the service she received from Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust.
Now other vulnerable mothers in Lancaster may be forced to spend Christmas miles away from their children following the temporary removal of female psychiatric beds at The Orchard, in Pathfinders Drive.
Campaigners say that the decision to remove the beds has breached the Equality Act, and will cause unnecessary suffering for families over the festive period.
Lancashire Care said it did not believe it had breached the Act.
Rebecca has Bipolar Disorder and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, aged 32.
She had a double mastectomy following two years of stability.
She said: “My Bipolar means I have a history of bad reactions to general anaesthetic and to certain medication. After my mastectomy on October 14 I became manic as soon as I came round from the anaesthetic, and soon entered a dangerous mixed episode.”
Following a stint at a mental health unit in Blackpool, Rebecca was re-admitted to Burnley, where she said the problems peaked, and that only by taking to Twitter whilst in the ward did staff sort out her issues.
She added: “It shouldn’t take Twitter. Those other patients don’t have a voice like I do. It really is a nightmare from a service user’s perspective. Burnley is miles away from Lancaster and it’s horrendous. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
“As females, we are so much more likely to end up there now because Burnley is closed to men and the Orchard is closed to women.”
Rebecca said she was due for another operation in December, and could end up miles away from her children for Christmas.
The Trust said last month that it closed the female beds at The Orchard because of a seasonal peak in male need, and still maintains that.
But Philippa Molloy, who is one of 834 women in the district who receives community care for mental health issues, and has herself been a patient in The Orchard, disagrees, and has Freedom of Information requests which she says proves it.
The 39-year-old mother of two, who set up the campaign group Beds in the Orchard, said: “There is a seasonal peak in demand, but this has never led to any facility being closed completely to women before.
“Ridge Lea hospital was mixed sex from 2008 until 2014, but remained mixed sex throughout autumn and winter for all of those times.
“All other facilities have remained mixed sex in all of those years. The closure was clearly - from their own words - due to them needing to make up the shortfall of closing 22 male beds in Burnley.”
Philippa also believes that the trust breached the Equality Act in closing the Lancaster female beds.
She added: “They knowingly and artificially caused a shortage in male beds, with the women of Lancaster and District being the victims of this action.”
But Keith Dibble, Deputy Network Director for Adult Mental Health – Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The group believe we have and we are mindful of that. We don’t believe we have as this is a temporary measure. If the arrangement was a permanent one, then a full consultation would be required. The beds the Trust operates are provided on a pan Lancashire basis, taking into consideration the needs of the entire population.”
Mr Dibble went on to say: “Operational managers and clinicians have constantly reviewed the temporary arrangement. We recognise the issues raised by the group and will continue to engage with them.
“The Trust wants the same outcome as the group however we appreciate it isn’t as quick as the group would have liked.
“We regularly meet to review the bed demand and as soon as this is possible, the beds will revert back to being mixed sex and it is hoped that this can be done before the end of the year. The Harbour (a new facility in Blackpool) will become operational in March 2015 however it is not our intention for The Orchard to be male only until this point.”
MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale David Morris said: “‘I have been supporting the campaign group led by Philippa Molloy by speaking to the Trust on their behalf and ensuring their questions are answered by the Trust. I am currently awaiting some more information from the Trust on whether equality legislation was followed correctly when this decision was made.”