The Bastard Noose: NHS Bed Shortage


My wait in Bay 13 of the Emergency Department was stressed not only by not knowing when it would end, but by constantly being told it was close to ending and it not ending.

The concept of time was largely lost with no daylight. Time was dictated by the arrival of the friends and family I was slowly realising I am very lucky to have and, yes I’ll admit, a watch. As days wore on and my expense and tying up of resources became more of a stress on the Trust who cared for me, there was no shortage of tension.

Mental health, or really any, beds are hard to find. I was told that a lot. I understood, I got it after about day three.

Used to the frequent drawing of my curtain by someone looking for another patient or just checking I hadn't done a runner (an idea which left me so fast I'm definitely a candidate for Stockholm Syndrome), I didn't flinch when a man came in with a clipboard to enquire on my happiness. Didn't flinch, because this friendly chap wore the kind of jumper you'd expect of a latter years middle manager, replete with scruffy pyjamas and slippers.

He was delightful. Harmless and seemingly in the ED as long as me. Almost like the only member of staff I saw all day every day, with a smile and a hello for everyone he went canvassing joy on his pad which only had scribbles on it. I didn't mind intrusion from him, I wanted to hug him, as my mood slipped ever backward with the wait for a suitable bed. Doctors coming by with good news on a bed in a mental health ward was less consistent, despite their frequent appearance. Beds are hard to find.

Constantly briefed on what to expect on a ward which was an apparent fallacy, I became a little flippant as I grew tired of nothing happening. The ED was all plain sailing they seemed to think. You’re preparing me for what- a bed in a less settled environment than here? I cannot be more honest than saying I nearly discharged myself* on more than one occasion, and not leaving politely either.

 "I'm going to redirect my mail to Bay 13" did not go down well.

When asked what my expectations were of a ward, I asked if it would be "a bit like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"?

"Something like that, something like a Travelodge but with the mentally ill."

My cousin's response was, "So a Travelodge, then."

The updates were daily, we** waited for news after the NHS bureaucracy board had their bastard breakfast bed meeting. Presumably with all the fun cereal they'd stolen from us. Always a meeting with the conclusion that beds are hard to find. Hope faded and we grew upset and angry. I did not want to be in hospital, it was a miracle I made it to see a doctor, but I had been sold on the idea that this was all for my long term good. I wasn't suicidal, maybe, I didn't really know as all sense of self was obliterated in the incessantly oppressive ED environment. I was angry though, for sure.

As time went on, and different conflicting information smashed into us, my famously patient demeanour eroded.

Initial offers were laughable. Harrogate. There was a bed in Harrogate- did I want it? Not ideal for a South East Londoner whose family and friends were pretty much the last remaining reason to live. Neither was Weston-Super-Mare, although the seaside carried with it the possibility of a pier, arcade and crazy (apt) golf. I declined both, but the shortage of beds for someone in my position was now horribly apparent.

I was told it was actually cheaper at that point to put me up in a hotel- which perhaps explains the mentions of Travelodge. Maybe that's why Travelodge (allegedly) have so many mentally ill people in them?

At about day six, a consultant came in. He may have just lacked tact or been under pressure because beds are hard to find, but as a high ranking mental health doctor his attitude was unforgivable. Even bar staff are taught not to take their issues out on the patrons. They wanted rid of me, we understood that, but this man tried to literally get rid of me. He insidiously sought to send me home under the impression it was best for me. My decision- made by him.

Beds are hard to find. It was all I could do not to bite my tongue to a bloody mess hearing this doctor. You lot wanted me to stay, you’ve spent a week telling me to hold on, then when it’s too hard to fix the bed situation you lose sight of fixing the patient?

Fuck you.

I never saw him again, thankfully. For legal reasons I do not remember his name.

The ED was a giant stick which fast made that mental health ward look less like a carrot than a juicy steak, cooked to perfection by a nude supermodel. In the ED they can’t even use the toaster because it’s a fire hazard; a steak from the ED would be most upsetting. Obviously I knew there’d be no nude supermodels in a mental health ward and I was sceptical even about steak. I, we, wanted out of Bay 13 though and the teasing was interminable.

Sit waiting in the uppy-downy bed. Eek out a day going outside for (escorted only) cigarettes. See family. Renew WiFi. Watch Netflix on the paid for WiFi. Eat food if it comes. Take some makewell drugs. Wait for news. News comes. News is not good- beds are really hard to find. Sleep. Repeat.

Almost never good news. This wasn't just me getting this news. I knew there were many waiting more patiently then me elsewhere.

Grumbling to my omnipresent mum, day eight came in Bay 13. Nurses were at the point of apologising for my length of stay, as if it was their fault. It was not. Still, I was tying up a resource so needed to them. Suddenly, a way out walked through the door blue plastic curtain. We have a bed in a mental health ward. It’s elsewhere in London. Is that Ok, will you accept?

Compared to Harrogate, elsewhere in London was practically next door. Of course I accepted.

Just need to dot the t’s and cross the i’s, I was told. All a formality but from people who didn’t know i from t. I spent some time tidying, readying to go. Then was told the bed had been taken, it was all off, renew the WiFi.

At least my food had arrived, but I threw the curry at the wall. Dick move, I know.

Beds are hard to find.


*Discharged, rather than charging out in a gown waving it all about at the south circular.

This would have been the proverbial two steps back, but steps anywhere looked tempting at the time. 

**usually a parent and me.

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