The second-longest serving ATU resident has just left – but where is she now?

The second-longest serving resident of a UK mental health hospital has just left recently.

For the past 22 years, 59-year old Jackie has been shut up – first, inside the notorious (and now closed) South Ockendon institution in South Mimms where she first developed challenging behaviour and later at Heath Close, an NHS facility in Billericay.

She has recently moved into her own home where she will live independently, supported to do so by staff from Dimensions. New team manager Debbie takes up Jackie’s story:

My first encounter with Jackie was an elderly lady sitting alone at a table, staring vacantly at a blank green wall. Bored beyond belief with nowhere to go, nothing to do and no-one to talk to. This would turn out to be typical of her days inside the hospital.

Since getting into a wheelchair during a bout of gout 5 years ago, she has barely left it at all. Not to sit on a sofa. Not to try to walk again. Not to make a cup of tea. Indeed, for the past five years Jackie wasn’t even been able to enter her own kitchen as her wheelchair wouldn’t fit.

Hospital staff did almost everything for Jackie – they made her tea, brought her meals, ran errands to the shop. This approach may masquerade as caring but over the years, it completely eliminated Jackie’s independence and confidence to do things for herself.

Jackie had become depersonalised – her day was nothing more than a set of tasks for hospital staff to do. The highlight of Jackie’s week was a pat-a-dog session that only lasts a few minutes. She developed serious anxiety around change, which lead to challenging behaviours… and so the vicious circle continued.

Then came Winterbourne View, the creaking cogs of change, and pressure on CCGs and local authorities to get people out of institutional living. Following one failed placement (which Jackie won’t talk about) she was introduced to Dimensions.

It has taken 12 months to build relationships and develop trust to the point where Jackie couldn’t wait to leave. When I asked what she wanted from her new life, she replied:

“I want to be able to make my own cup of tea. I want to choose when I go to bed. I want there to be no health and safety posters in my house. I want to be able to hold my own front door key. I want my mum to visit lots. And, in August, I really want a party for my 60th birthday.”

Jackie now lives in her own home in the community

Jackie had her initial priorities for her new life, as did we here at Dimensions. In the future we want to support her to walk again. To re-learn to cook (she wants to start with Chinese Chicken… no pressure on her staff then)!

She wants to get involved in the life of the beautiful community centre next door and access her long-forgotten savings accounts. And ironically, for someone leaving hospital, she wants to improve her health by registering with her local GP and dentist.

For someone as institutionalised as Jackie, life in supported living could well be overwhelming. But we think she’ll thrive. She has the capacity to make her own decisions, to take control of her life. And the early signs are promising.

The first thing she did on seeing her new living room was choose to get out of her wheelchair to sit in the armchair. That was pretty much the first time she’d left her wheelchair in five years.

Jackie will now be supported to live a far richer life in the community at a fraction of the cost to the NHS of keeping her in hospital. And as for her 60th… well, together we’ll make it a night to remember.