Every day the family of 15-year-old Milly Whitley make the journey from their Calverley home in west Leeds to the Becton Centre in south Sheffield, which is a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), so they can spend just one hour together.
There are no available places in the Leeds units and figures show a steady increase in young people being referred to the city’s own CAMHS services.
Despite asking various health trusts and his local MP, dad Tim Whitley, says he still has not had answers about the gap in provision and the number of young people this is affecting.
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He said: “I will be relentless in pursuing this and demanding that he sees this through. While we need to get Milly home, my next set of questions will be, and this drives my because I am that angry, I want them to explain why in 14 months Milly has not been offered a bed in Leeds, what the current waiting time is and how many people are on the waiting list in Leeds and West Yorkshire.
“The whole point of this is to try and shine a light on Milly’s case and get the help she needs but this is a local and national crisis. Young people desperately need help and can’t get it locally. Something that is horrendous is exacerbated by the fact these young people are miles away from home.”
Mr Whitley, of Woodhall Road, said the longer their situation goes on it is becoming harder to manage and that various healthcare professionals he speaks to openly admit that they are stretched to capacity when it comes to eating disorder treatment.
Milly was diagnosed with an eating disorder in June 2020 at the age of 14 through her GP and put in touch with CAMHS where she had a Zoom call once a week and a weekly weight check. However, she had been losing weight prior to this and her condition deteriorated so quickly that she became “dangerously ill” and she was taken to LGI. Her blood pressure had dropped to the level of a two-year-old and she was admitted to a general ward in July 2020.
The extent of her anorexia, which had developed during the first national lockdown, meant she was wheel-chair bound and being fed through a tube and due to restrictions only her mother, Catherine, could visit.
This went on for five weeks until she was allocated a bed at Becton where her family were allowed to visit for one hour a day. It was months before Milly was allowed home leave and that could only be for half an hour to fit in with strict feeding times, for which she had to be back in Sheffield.
After a few more months her home leave was increased but she was not eating enough so it was cancelled and the family are back to one hour visits a day.
In the snow last weekend it took Mrs Whitley four and a half hours to drive for a one hour visit and two hours to drive back.
Mr Whitley said: “It is exhausting and unsustainable. Milly has an older brother and sister and they have been unbelievable in the support that they have given her but it does have an impact. My mum lives in Grimsby and are incredibly close. She has seen her once in the last two years.
“It takes its toll and it is exhausting. The whole time she has been in Sheffield there has not been any bed available for inpatients in Leeds and there still isn’t. We are trying to do everything we can for Milly but this is not an isolated case. If she was in Leeds it would be easier as a family to manage and I am certain it would have a positive impact on her mentally to be nearer to home without a doubt.”
The Whitley family say they have spoken with parents from Barnsley whose daughter is being treated in Plymouth and two other families from Sheffield whose children aren in specialist units in London and Northumberland.
Milly is facing her second Christmas in hospital and has already spent one birthday there. Her family had hoped she might be discharged at the end of the year but she had a setback.
Mr Whitley added: “All parents say this about their kids - but the fight and the spirit gives us hope that she will beat this. Anorexia is such a controlling illness, has such a fierce grip and has a voice - the mental side is huge but she desperately wants to come home. Her life is dancing and dogs, she loves both and is missing the dogs so much but she is fighting it.
“We have been realistic about the recovery involved and know that it is years and one step forward and ten back, but the way she keeps bouncing back is incredible - she talks a lot about things she is looking forward to.”
Statistics from Leeds CAMHS show that between April 2019 and March 2020 it had 113 referrals that were categorised as either routine, urgent or emergency. The comparative figure for April 2020 to March 2021 was 166 and April 2021 to, and including, November 2021 is 117.
In 2019-2020 seven cases were classed as urgent and one was an emergency. In 2020 to 2021, 28 cases were urgent and one as an emergency. Since April this year, 18 are said to have been urgent and one as an emergency.
Dr Sara Munro, Lead Chief Executive Officer for the West Yorkshire Mental Health, Learning Disability and Autism Collaborative, said: “Young people should have access to the level of care they need close to where they live. Our aim across West Yorkshire is to eliminate out of area placements but we know there are still improvements to be made.
“It is sometimes necessary for a young person to receive care outside of their local area. This could be down to local capacity or to meet an individual’s needs. We appreciate the difficulties this poses for young people and their families, and we are working with partners in the healthcare system to improve.
“We’re aware of the family’s concerns and we’re sorry they feel their daughter’s needs are not being fully met. We’re working with them to find a more suitable placement as soon as we can.
“Improving mental health care for children, young people and their families is one of our main priorities across West Yorkshire. We will soon be opening our new inpatient unit, Red Kite View, which will increase specialist mental health capacity from 8 to 22 beds.”
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