Open Letter to Cygnet – We need accountable mental health services

To all citizens,

Society needs accountable healthcare. Healthcare is a social good, improving quality of life, providing skilled jobs, nurturing the community, so well-loved by the nation an Ipsos Mori poll showed it is beginning to outrank the monarchy as the institution which most fosters a sense of national pride. Last year I was admitted to a psychiatric PICU, Antelope House, in Southampton, for routine therapy. I was slow to recover, eventually being transferred to Cygnet Hospital in Woking.

Absurdly, and against the values that inspired Beveridge, Cygnet’s approach to healthcare and social well-being are undermined because patients, “service users” in dehumanising corporate jargon, are considered fodder for profits, a scandal that made national headlines after The Mail broke the story in November, subjecting the secretive, Kafkaesque world of the Cygnet franchise to media scrutiny, which can help support improvements and reform when it detects and exposes wanton corruption.

I have responded phenomenally to treatment for schizophrenia. The Section 3 was explained to me as necessary insofar as I was resistant to medication in the community, which stoked psychosis. This I now accept was unhelpful behaviour, a sign of deep-seated illness and consider the therapy I have received as greatly benefiting my prognosis, my personal and professional prospects.

Recently I have found a silent conspiracy to detain patients for longer than is reasonable. This practice, not an isolated incident but endemic, is at best legally dubious, at worst criminally incompetent. The circumstances are not unique to my case but a common recourse in private psychiatric hospitals where people with autism and learning disabilities are often subject to detention, inhumane conditions and abuse that leaves them sicker, or dead. Because I see myself as having fallen into a void nobody cares to save me from, I often think I will be dealing with ideation of suicide and self-harm as a consequence in the future.

Enormous distress was caused by incidents of inappropriate touching beyond what’s clinically reasonable, and from trying to navigate the formal procedures sanctioned by institutional policy inside Cygnet, the label of “attention seeker” swiftly assigned to me by Cygnet’s first class citizens – employees – the pain compounded by active, aggressive efforts to prevent me highlighting my plight with the police and public.

Real persecution perceived as a nuisance is internalised as self-doubt, self-hatred and actively destroys, instead of supporting, mental health. I wish I couldn’t, but I can imagine how stressful other patients detained in similar institutions across the country are finding life, particularly when a clinic ostensibly committed to care greets them with ruthless interrogation and an operation to repress the truth and smear the whistleblower when they draw an accurate picture of institutional corruption.

At best Cygnet’s obsession with abusing power is stigmatising, because human lives of mental patients ‘other’ed’ by society had one of the most profoundly challenging – but potentially liberating and beautiful – times of their life, recovery, turned in to a cheap buck and a caged spectacle. At its worst Cygnet has levelled cold, callous and unashamed persecution tantamount to the Victorian campaign of hate against the Elephant man.

Daily Mail columnist Ian Birrell’s elegant rant about Cygnet’s decision to reward itself for incompetence, its critical complacency and self-appraisal in face of incontrovertible evidence of systematic failure, was a huge relief to me, as I had become resigned to doing my time with no help. Cygnet’s belief in its virtuousness when making genuine whistleblowing seem pernicious is vile and offensive.

They questioned the competence and truth value of my experiences and judgements and suggested to me the reason they were short-staffed is that “nobody likes working with you.” Tellingly, they mocked my proud statement I would be returning to masters study in Energy Policy at Westminster University by laughing “how do you expect that to happen?” Tellingly, they mocked, were intolerant of my commitment to an independent life in the community, in education.

Against the odds of autism, schizophrenia and PTSD, knowing the trials I must bear, I have decided to live in a way that tries to fulfil and maximise my potential, and publically discuss my issues sensitively, an act of dignified bravery which sets an example to healthcare professionals and society at large, if anyone cares to listen and learn.

I aspire to live a full, varied, rich life that inspires my loved ones and maybe thousands of people with fond memories of my warmth, talents and humour. It’s my wish that I improve the world through music, activism and journalism like my hero John Lennon in a way that harnesses my experiences for good and encourages people to approach vulnerable conditions with knowledgeable, respectful attitudes to take back into society. Cygnet doesn’t want anyone to have the chance of receiving that priceless education.

As Grenfell has shown, the private sector intrudes upon, destroys innocent lives no end by pillaging the public purse to support the vain, vicarious lifestyles of elites. Cygnet is not alone but is one of a host of mega-corporations fuelled by a reactionary impulse to wring cash from any and every potential victim, who are slowly bereaved of confidence, identity and humanity.

Society needs to learn from experiences of mental patients supported in recovery, and nobody needs that more than their families, but resilient, dignified people are losing hope forever, simply because our society is not yet mature enough to honour the idea that we are equal and that every individual deserves to be treated with dignity, respect and equality. The philosophy, or lack thereof, at Cygnet, is that privatisation matters more than public accountability, that the bottom line is profit, not passion for people, and recovery.

Yours in solidarity,

A Union Of Concerned Citizens


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