West Lane: 'Chaotic' mental health hospital was like 'an experiment' says former patient

Meg Ellis said her best friend would "still be here" if she got the proper care at West Lane. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees News
  • Article by Molly Sharples.

A former mental health patient has spoken out about how young people being cared for at a now-closed hospital were treated like "a problem".

Meg Ellis, who is a former patient at West Lane Hospital, described the facility in Middlesbrough as "like an experiment".

She also told ITV Tyne Tees she believes the treatment of her best friend contributed to her death after being discharged from the hospital.

Ms Ellis met Jadzia Todd while they were both being treated for mental health issues at West Lane Hospital in Middlesbrough.

After leaving West Lane, Ms Todd's mental health continued to deteriorate and in March 2019 she took her own life.

Ms Ellis, who is now 22 and works as a chef on Teesside, said: "I do think if she had got the right treatment then, she could possibly have still been here today."

It comes as a report published today has described how there was a "deteriorating spiral" of poor care at West Lane in the months before it closed following the death of two other teenage girls in August 2019.

The independent investigation has been carried out into concerns and issues raised in relation to the safety and quality of mental health services for young people provided by Tees Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust at West Lane Hospital.

  • Video report by Katie Cole.

Ms Ellis was admitted voluntarily to West Lane in 2017, aged 16, following the death of her grandparents.

She said care staff at the facility saw patients as a "problem" and there was culture of neglect.

She added: "Some of them just didn't want to be there- really couldn't care and just sat in the office.

"If you hurt yourself in any way they would just tell you to clean up.

"There was no support. They just took your vitals, gave you some medication to make you go to sleep and that was it. 

"Patients were a problem, you know, if they caused too many issues with harming themselves or being distressed, it was just an issue for them."

Meg Ellis was admitted voluntarily to West Lane in 2017, aged 16, following the death of her grandparents. Credit: Handout

Ms Ellis said the hospital felt like an "experiment". She describes how patients' belongings were not be searched after home leave and they were able to bring in materials to self harm with.

She adds there were accessible items around the hospital that could also be used for self-harm.

Ms Ellis said: "It is quite sad to think none of us would have got better in there but we all thought that is where we are supposed to be. 

"It felt like they went right all of these kids aren’t ok, let's just put them together and see what works, and nothing did."

She said there was a lack of structure to days in the hospital and "you didn’t have to get dressed".

She added: "Some people literally were in their dressing gowns all day, You could sit in your room all day if you wanted to."

"There wasn’t that pressure to get up and do something productive with your day."

Meg Ellis said her best friend Jadzia Todd was the "life and soul of everyday." Credit: Handout

Ms Ellis met her best friend Jadzia while they were both in patients at the facility. She describes her as the "life and soul of everyday."

Ms Ellis recalls one incident when she was getting ready to go on home leave for the weekend and went to say goodbye to Jadzia.

She said: "Where Jadzia's room was, the office was right next to it.

"I was at the end of the corridor and could hear something from Jadzia's room. If I could hear it the office certainly could. 

"I opened the door and she literally was foaming at the mouth from a suicide attempt. Nurses were none the wiser. I had to sound the alarm from her."

Jadzia's family and friends say her time at West lane contributed to her death. Credit: Handout

Ms Ellis recalled another incident when Jadzia had expressed concern that she might harm herself and was granted leave to go on a walk. When she did not return, Ms Ellis said she alerted staff but was dismissed.

She then left the hospital herself to go and find her friend - to discover she had taken an overdose.

"I had ran after her, I manage to find her, restrain her and got police to take us back to the hospital," she said.

"The member of staff there got in taxi with me and said ‘you can stay at home tonight and we’ll have a meeting tomorrow.'

"They said ‘I guess if patients going to kill themselves, they’re going to kill themselves and there’s nothing we can do about it.'"

Meg Ellis said her and Jadzia were each other biggest supports through their time at West Lane. Credit: Handout

After leaving West Lane in 2017 Jadzia returned home to Tyneside but her mental health continued to deteriorate. In March 2019 she took her own life.

Both Ms Ellis and Jadzia's family say the care she received at West Lane contributed to her death.

Ms Ellis said: "It’s the place where I met my best friend but also the place that I say was the starting point of me losing my best friend.

"I do think if she had got the right treatment then should possibly have still been here today."

Ms Ellis added that her friend and the other girls who died following care under the Tees Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) NHS Foundation Trust didn't get the care they "deserved".

She said: "I got out, I had the right support unit there for me.

"The likes of Jadzia, Nadia, Christie and Emily they didn’t get the chance you know. 

"It was bad when I was there - how much worse must it have got?. 

"This was somewhere that you literally put their lives in the hands of the trust and they were massively failed. 

"Kids with mental health are not a problem. I am not a problem like they treated me - like they treated all the girls there and all the patients. Ultimately they just need the right help." 

Meg Ellis wears a constant reminder of her friend Jadzia Todd. Credit: Handout

Jadzia's sister, Leonie, said: "There are so many feelings I feel toward West Lane Hospital. 

"Anger - that the failings were consistent for years despite attempts by families to highlight them. 

"Anger that it took for not one, or two but three tragic deaths for any serious attempts at change. 

"Anger that what was meant to be a place of safety left not only patients but also families with so much more trauma, and not one person cares enough to acknowledge this and apologise to every person affected. 

"And finally guilt. Guilt that I let my sister down by believing this hell hole would help her. 

"And guilt accompanied with the wonder if we pushed harder and harder years ago, when they were failing, then if it would ever have got this far. 

"If it wasn't for West Lane Hospital and their failings setting off a catalogue of errors, then Jadzia would still be here.

"She would still be a sister, a granddaughter, and would be an auntie to a girl she never got to meet."

In November 2022 an independent investigation identified 120 failings in the care of three teenage girls who died within months of each other at mental health hospitals under the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV).

TEWV was contacted for comment on the claims made by Ms Ellis.

In a statement responding to the report, trust chair David Jennings, said: "We would like to reiterate how deeply sorry we are for the events that contributed to the deaths of Christie, Nadia and Emily. 

“Brent Kilmurray, our chief executive, and I have met each of the young women’s families to apologise to them in person. I thank them for allowing us to do that. I cannot begin to imagine how painful it has been for them. 

“This report covers a period of time where it was abundantly clear there were shortfalls in both care and leadership. Over the last three years, how we care for people, how we involve patients, families and carers, and our leadership and governance structure have changed significantly.

“We will continue to work hard to make sure we deliver safe and kind care to the people we support, as they have every right to expect."

Margaret Kitching, the Chief Nurse for NHS England, North East and Yorkshire, said: “This report raises extremely significant concerns and our thoughts are with the patients and families of all those patients who haven’t received the care they deserve.

"Whilst we recognise improvements have been made, the trust has a duty to ensure all the actions required of it are applied consistently across the organisation.  We continue to closely monitor the trust’s progress to ensure all of the recommendations are fully addressed."

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