Anna Davison has stayed in Bootham Park Hospital three times. Not all her experiences were positive, but the decision to close it has already had a massive impact on her own life – and, she believes, could have tragic consequences for others.

Anna, 44, first came to YorkMix in early October. It was a few days after the Care Quality Commission (CQC) abruptly closed down Bootham Park, York’s major mental hospital, after it failed a safety inspection.

Even though Anna hadn’t been inside the hospital for many years, its disappearance had a huge impact on her fragile mental health.

“It feels like it’s set me and my husband back 20 years,” she said.

“A lot of our friends, who we met through the system, are feeling exactly the same.

“They’re panicking – ‘where are we going to get our medication now, who’s going to help us if we get ill?’ It’s scary.”

The closure was also going to have a knock-on effect on Anna’s life which left her afraid, alone and 50 miles from home.

‘I had a breakdown’

Anna wears a bracelet engraved with a semi-colon. This is a symbol of hope used by many people who have struggled with mental health problems to show that their life hasn't come to a full stop but goes on. Photograph: YorkMix
Anna wears a bracelet engraved with a semi-colon. This is a symbol of hope used by many people who have struggled with mental health problems to show that their life hasn’t come to a full stop but goes on. Photograph: YorkMix

Anna developed mental health problems after being in a “controlling relationship” for six years, between the ages of 14 to 20.

“They were what I consider my formative years. He was very controlling. When I left that relationship, I had my first breakdown in 1993. I was 21.

“I took time off work with depression. I had a psychosis after that and had a breakdown.”

She has attempted to take her own life more than once.

I’ve taken a few overdoses over the years which I’m not proud of. One when I ended up in Bootham Hospital and then The Avenue.

I was living in a bedsit. I was suicidal and took loads of paracetamol and alcohol.

My then boyfriend rang my parents and I got taken to Bootham and stayed there for months and then ended up in The Avenue. That was 1996.

She has stayed in Bootham Park three times as an inpatient and was also treated at the Cotford Day Ward as an outpatient in 1994.

“It was a mixed experience for me,” she says. “There were some really kind and supportive staff, but there was the other side of the coin when people were wound up.

“I was treated like a guinea pig in there – these medications they give you…”

Closure of Bootham ‘extremely scary’

Despite not all her experiences in Bootham Park being positive, she was devastated when it closed without notice in October.

“The closure of Bootham Park is extremely scary. The fact that people are having to go so far away for help.

“Moving out all the patients will have totally unsettled them. They won’t have the support of their families.

“There were people who weren’t moved when it closed, they were left to fend for themselves. One mum said that her son wasn’t ready to come out of Bootham, he needs that safe place to be.”

Anna added: “It beggars belief they can do this to people. There’s nothing in York any more.”

What did she think would be the result?

I think there will be a massive rise in suicides in this area.

The people released into the community are walking around in a desperate state. Anything could go off.

They’ll be desperate. They could easily harm someone else.

Downward spiral

A few weeks after we first met, Anna and husband Mick came to update us on her story.

Anna’s life had taken a sudden turn for the worse. The closure of Bootham Park Hospital had had a serious impact on her mental health – it “brought it all back”, she said.

It meant a woman who “had never been in trouble in her life” according to Mick found herself arrested and convicted for drink-driving.

Anna admits she was wrong to drive after drinking. But she said had been unable to get treatment for her worsening mental health.

And like other people with bipolar disorder she had sought to self-medicate with alcohol.

Husband Mick said: “If they had medicated her properly this would never have happened. She wouldn’t have been going out delivering an anniversary card to Wetherby at 12.30am.”

She was detained in a police cell for hours, before being tried and receiving a year’s driving ban the next morning.

Worse was to come.

Sectioned and taken away

One of the bruises Anna says she received after being manhandled by a police officer. Photograph: Anna Davison
One of the bruises Anna says she received after being manhandled by a police officer. Photograph: Anna Davison

Anna was at home in York on the Saturday night following her arrest, and something snapped.

My frustrations just boiled over. I was attacking Mick for no reason at all. Saying, ‘what are we going to do?’

It all happened in front of our neighbours, it’s so embarrassing.

Mick called an ambulance. The ambulance crew “called the police because I was so distressed”.

Two policemen were called to the scene. Anna has pictures of livid bruises on her arm which she says were caused by the arresting officer manhandling her into the van.

“I didn’t try to run, I didn’t try to resist arrest,” she says. “I didn’t have any shoes for a start. They took me in with nothing.”

A police spokeswoman said:

“The police were called to Anna’s home by the ambulance service, who were concerned about her behaviour.

“Police attended as requested and the street triage team were contacted twice. Officers then took her to Harrogate District Hospital where she was detained under the Mental Health Act.

“We have not received any complaint about the way the police acted, or any other aspect of this incident.

“If anyone is unhappy with their contact with North Yorkshire Police, we urge them to make a formal complaint to enable us to fully investigate the matter. This can be done online via our website, by phone, fax, post, in person at a police station or via the Independent Police Complaints Commission.”

The officers told Anna she was being sectioned under the Mental Health Act. “I didn’t know where they were going to take me,” Anna said, breaking down in tears.

As it turned out she would be going on a very confusing and convoluted journey.

Despatched and interrogated

Anna was first taken to a mental health facility in Harrogate in the back of the police van, without a triage nurse.

“I was so confused and upset. I was crying. I did not know what was going to happen to me,” she said.

She was given a blanket and some socks.

Harrogate didn’t have any beds available. After an assessment by a doctor Anna was sent to Middlesbrough in a taxi.

Anna arrived at Roseberry Park mental health hospital at 5am on the Sunday morning where she was “interrogated more. Had all the tests under the sun.”

While there, she comforted another patient.

“There was a girl from York who had come via Leeds in an ambulance and she was terrified. They did not look after her at all. She has a little boy back in York who’s seven – what is going on?”

Anna eventually returned home on the Tuesday, very shaken and upset.

Workers are swamped

Mostly still closed… Bootham Park Hospital
Mostly still closed… Bootham Park Hospital

Anna has chosen to speak out about her experiences because she wants others to understand the impact decisions like the closure of Bootham Park Hospital have on real, often vulnerable, people.

A “place of safety unit” at Bootham reopened on December 16. That might have saved Anna from her nightmare journey. But the rest of the hospital remains closed.

There is talk of building a new mental health hospital in York by 2019. But Anna feels that is a waste of an existing resource.

“I think they should finish what they started. They’ve already made improvements at Bootham,” she said.

Just as crucially are the staffing levels, Anna said.

The social workers are swamped – they are basically looking at suicide cases before they can see a person. Even then they don’t get looked after by the system.

A woman who threw herself into the river this year, she’s a friend of ours. She went out to drown herself in York. She put bricks in her rucksack to weigh herself down.

Two people, bless them, pulled her out and saved her thank goodness.

She got ferried back to her boyfriend’s mum’s who’s 70, and they had to look after her. They never admitted her to Bootham.

Anna said her husband Mick suffers with mental health issues – “and all this has had a massive impact on his mental health too”.

A spokesperson from Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust said:

“This was clearly a distressing experience for Mrs Davison and we’re sorry she feels she hasn’t had the support she needs. We would encourage her to get in touch so that we can discuss her concerns about her care and treatment.”