Health

Anorexic teen passed to six hospitals miles from home

Picture of Caitlin Image copyright Antonia Conerney
Image caption Caitlin celebrating her 14th birthday

When Antonia Conerney's teenage daughter was diagnosed with anorexia she expected to get treatment close to home in Reading.

Instead she says her daughter was passed to six different hospitals.

Eventually she was transferred to a hospital in Bury, Greater Manchester, around 200 miles away.

NHS England South would not comment on her case but said it was "recognised nationally" that there are pressures on adolescent mental health services.

Caitlin Conerney was 12 when her mother first realised something was wrong. She was losing weight and didn't seem herself.

'Back and forth'

Antonia says: "We went back and forth from the doctors for a while trying to find out what was wrong.

"They would tell us to come back in a month, then another month.

"All the while her condition was getting worse. Finally in December 2014 she was referred to the child and adolescent mental health services in Berkshire before she was diagnosed with anorexia.

"We had a phone assessment and she was put on a waiting list.

"As her weight dropped even more we became increasingly worried and took her back to the GP who said we could take her to A&E if we felt that concerned. We did, so we took her to the A&E at the Royal Berkshire hospital."

Image copyright rbft
Image caption Antonia was first told to take her daughter to A&E by her GP

Caitlin's condition did not seem to improve. She was harming herself and soon she was admitted to hospital, this time in Chelmsford in Essex.

"After being discharged from there she slipped back into the illness and then the same thing happened again." Antonia says.

"She would be treated for a while, discharged and then have to be admitted again, and it would never be in the same hospital. The following time it was one in Oxford.

"After one week there she was admitted to a hospital in Roehampton for two weeks.

"It was incredibly hard for us all.

"I felt like no one was looking at the cause of Caitlin's illness and she was just being passed around.

"At her lowest weight Caitlin was dangerously underweight and desperately sick."

Image copyright Antonia Conerney

Read more: Anorexia in later life

By Christmas 2015 Caitlin's condition seemed to be improving. The family attended therapy sessions, but the progress she had made was short lived. Antonia recalls how her daughter slipped deeper into depression.

"I was told she needed to spend more time as an inpatient and that is when she was sent to a hospital in Sheffield.

A bed closer to home

"Caitlin was harming herself more frequently, and was also pulling out her hair. The doctors said she had anxiety and depression. I was trying desperately hard to find her a bed closer to home but wasn't getting anywhere.

"It was always the same story, no beds, long waiting lists, and all this while my daughter's weight was dropping rapidly and her condition was getting worse," Antonia says.

"Now she is in the Cygnet hospital in Bury in Greater Manchester. That is 200 miles from where we live.

"It takes five hours to drive there. I make the round trip as much as I can. I want to see her but i is so difficult because sometimes she doesn't want to see me.

"She thinks we have abandoned her because she is so far away. She is worse now than she was before and desperately homesick, she needs her family.

"How can we support her and help her to get better if we are miles away from her? On top of that I am only allowed to see her for two hours during visiting time. Sometimes I book myself into a hotel just so I can stay close by and visit her again.

"It is putting incredible pressure on me and the rest of the family. I just want to be her near so that I can give her the love and support she so desperately needs at this time."

Image copyright Antonia Conerney

'The NHS has failed my daughter'

"I fear she will take her own life if she isn't moved closer to home. The NHS has failed Caitlin in every way possible. How can they think this is in any way acceptable?

"I am devastated and absolutely heartbroken. The stress is overwhelming and each day is a struggle. I cannot explain how it feels to have a child who is so unwell and as a mother I am helpless.

"More needs to be done to help young people with mental health issues sooner rather than waiting until it's out of control and almost too late."

What do health professionals say?

NHS England South - who are responsible for Caitlin's care - said in a statement:

"It is recognised nationally that there are issues in respect of pressures on capacity across a range of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, or CAMHS, Tier 4 provision, and this is not unique to the South Region.

"There have been additional beds opened nationally over the last two years reducing the need for placements away from home. However, it is recognised that there are no specific services in-region to meet the more specialist needs such as eating disorder, learning disability and secure care provision.

"NHS England will be working with local communities over the next three months to better define the needs of their populations to produce a needs assessment.

"We do acknowledge that we need specialist CAMHS services across the South, in particular learning disability and specialist eating disorder services."

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