For those of you who find this page through my posting on the Guardian blog comments, (there seem to be a fair number of you!) here's a summary of my experiences of complaining to Bedfordshire and Luton Partnership trust.
First, some background:
I've experienced depression for a long, long time.
My symptoms deteriorated in 2005 and my GP and counsellor referred me to BLPT, specifically asking for some deeper, longer term psychotherapy.
I had an appointment with a psychiatrist and a CMHN who agreed at the meeting to recommend psychotherapy at the next team meeting. The team turned it down (but didn't inform me). At my next psychiatry meeting I was told this. The psychiatrist again said he would recommend psychotherapy. Again I was turned down. Various (and conflicting) reasons were given. After the third recommendation from the psychiatrist and another CMHN, plus further letters from my GP, and a third rejection from the CMHT, I made a complaint (focusing on the refusal and on lack of communication.
After this complaint I was given psychotherapy, but with a psychologist outside of this particular team. I also (eventually) had a CMHN (S) assigned as my Care Coordinator.
Unfortunately S experienced a lot of illness, had to go part time and had three extended periods of illness when I was left without a coordinator. This did not matter too much the first two times as I was working with the psychologist. However, her third absence coincided with my return to work after an extended sickness absence, the end of my sessions with the psychologist, the holiday leave of my GP and holidays of the two other key supporters I had. I asked the team leader for support in this situation and was refused. I asked for the support my CPA review meeting had agreed was needed and was refused. I was refused a copy of my Care Plan. I was told I had received all the support I needed and should be able to cope alone with the tools I had been given in my psychotherapy.
So I complained. I used the email address given on the Trust's website. When I heard nothing in response, I phoned. The email address was wrong - had been for over a month. I emailed the address I was given over the phone.
I waited. And waited. The full national guidelines period of time elapsed. The first response I received from the Trust failed to address several of the points I had made. I replied and asked for further answers. The complaint investigator was the person I complained against.
I was told I had to put this in writing (as opposed to the email I had sent, which was how I sent my first complaint, and one of the ways the Trust suggests for complaints). I was told I was using the wrong email address (though I was using the one I had been given, and the one which was now on the website). I was made to feel in the wrong.
I asked for a copy of the Trust Complaints policy. I was refused as it was an "internal document". I made reference to the Freedom of Information Act and made contact with the Information Governance Department who acted swiftly and appropriately.
I received another letter, another 25 working days later. This was even worse than the first. I was told that it was entirely appropriate that the person investigating the complaint should be the person I complained against.
I asked for a face to face meeting. This took ages to arrange. I had to do lots of chasing up to ensure it happened. Promises that I would be contacted failed to materialise.
Eventually I had the meeting. The advocate I arranged to have present felt my complaints had been taken seriously. Eventually (again, after the promised date) I received a letter confirming what had been said, and minutes from the meeting agreeing the areas which would be investigated.
I waited. And waited. And waited.
Well after the agreed 25 working days had elapsed, I received another response. I had to chase this up. Although better than the first two, it failed to address many of the points the meeting had agreed would be addressed. It offered few indications that anything had changed, though it did agree that the Complaints Policy was not followed in a number of ways in the handling of my complaint.
I asked again for the points to be responded to. By this time the person who I had met with, and who had written this report, had left the Trust precipitously. A decision was taken not to respond to my enquiries. I received one "final" letter from the Chief Executive of the Trust, Paul Mullin, which again failed to address the points I had made. My complaint is now with the Healthcare Commission.
The process of complaining, jumping through hoops, was extremely damaging to my mental health and caused another crisis for me. The emphasis seems to have been on defending the Trust and its employees, rather than admitting mistakes have been made.
The one good thing from this is that I am now with a different CMHT (though still within BLPT). It's a totally different experience.
Would I recommend complaining to BLPT through its official routes to others? Not unless they were feeling very strong in themselves. And let's face it, that's an unlikely situation for anyone needing the support of a mental health trust to be in, especially if they are in a situation where they feel it necessary to make a complaint.
Others have commented to me that they will not complain because they are afraid that their treatment will be affected. That was certainly my experience. Even though the trust deny this (their main grounds for this denial being lack of evidence of discrimination in my notes) I do believe that, after my initial complaint, there was a negative attitude towards me from the CMHT I was then with.
So, how to complain? I have no idea. Answers on a postcard please.