Mental health services are failing vulnerable women in prison

by Clare Simms - The View

Mental health services are failing vulnerable women in prison

by Clare Simms - The View
Clare Simms - The View
Case Owner
The View is a campaigning platform and a quarterly print magazine for women in the criminal justice system. We are raising funds for a "test case" against CNWL NHS Foundation Trust.
on 16th June 2021
pledged of £20,000 stretch target from 81 pledges
Clare Simms - The View
Case Owner
The View is a campaigning platform and a quarterly print magazine for women in the criminal justice system. We are raising funds for a "test case" against CNWL NHS Foundation Trust.

Latest: June 15, 2021

We have an angel philanthropist!

With 2 days left of our CrowdJustice appeal, to raise funds for a landmark legal case,  a philanthropist who heard the Legally Feminist podcast has offered to matchfund whatever we raise, up to …

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"I was told that I was not worth it" 

Ms L is a former prisoner who has a complex mental health diagnosis, known to the courts and the prison and probation services. Yet she never received treatment for her mental health issues. Almost £500m is spent on prison health care contracts, and about £150m on mental health care. So why are women not receiving adequate support or rehabilitation while they  are in prison? 

Ms L said:

"I think people generally have a distorted view of what happens to women in prison. There is no mental health support. There is no rehabilitation. We literally sit there at your expense, doing nothing, getting worse. 

When I got out, my life was shattered, and again, I had to start rebuilding from scratch. I couldn't function normally, I felt estranged from my life and my friends. I had been re-traumatised by the system that was meant to protect me."

We demand accountability!

We believe that by bringing this case, we will make the CNWL NHS Foundation Trust accountable and responsible for repeatedly failing to provide necessary mental health support to Ms L for over 16 years, many of which she spent imprisoned. 

As a result, they will be forced to review the way they work with women in prison who have complex mental health needs and whom they currently fail.

Who are we? 

The View, a campaigning platform and a quarterly print magazine, is supporting a woman known as "Ms L" to fund a legal claim against a key NHS Trust which should have ensured she got mental health support in prison when she needed it. This could create change for all women prisoners.

What difference will our case make?

This case will make a substantial difference and change the way mental health services are commissioned and delivered in prison. We hope press and public scrutiny will highlight the systemic failings of the Trust, how women are seriously failed, and what an utter waste of taxpayers' money this is.

We Need Your Help!

Mental health services in prison are broken. No more – this stops now! We want to change that, but we need your help. Please contribute and share this page now!

On behalf of Ms L and all the vulnerable women facing mental health issues every day in prison, thank you for making a difference and saving their lives.

Please donate what you can and share this page on social media or via email/WhatsApp.

This is Ms L's story

"I have been in and out of prison for over 25 years. In 2005, I was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, following a court-ordered report. I desperately asked the court and the prison service for psychiatric help, but all anyone cared about was locking me up and throwing away the key. I was released in 2007, having received no counselling or support at all. 

"In 2016, I was in trouble again. At the sentencing hearing, the judge was vile; he told me I had "had my chance" when in fact, I had never been offered any sort of counselling, let alone psychological intervention while in prison.  I was initially remanded to HMP Bronzefield and when I asked for support there, CNWL NHS Foundation Trust refused, saying they could only offer mental health treatment to women who had been sentenced and been handed long sentences. I was told that I was not worth it.  

However, I was then told that I would be managed under MAPPA, which manages the most dangerous people in the community, once I was released. I never committed violent offences,  I was just desperate for help. This seemed like an easy way for criminal justice agencies, especially the police, to target me. I really wanted to understand how I had ended up where I had, and no one seemed to want to help me. 

I was then shipped to HMP Send in 2017, where Virgin Health ran the mental health contract. There I was told they couldn't help me and referred me to the Government Forensic Service, which has forensic psychologists and psychiatrists employed by the prison service.  I was told by the probation officer that there was a long wait and I was not a priority

In 2018, I was recalled to prison, to HMP Downview. I was recalled because probation services put me in a bed and breakfast that had violent gang members in it and women with their children who had survived domestic abuse. I felt really unsafe there. I had three different addresses that I could have been sent to but the manager at Probation just decided to be unreasonable. No mental health pathway was put into place for me prior to my release, although HMPPS had had two and half years to organise something.

I dared to tweet about how awful National Probation Services were and it led to a 15-month recall.  I had even managed to find a personality disorder group in the community after my GP referred me, but my probation officer was unhelpful and unsupportive. They were supposed to refer me into their NPS Personality Disorder pathway; I don't think it even existed.

In 2018, mental health services at HMP Downview were also run by CNWL NHS Foundation Trust. It took my solicitor writing to CNWL NHS Foundation Trust to force them to let me have sessions with Dr Sara Allen, the forensic psychologist at HMP Downview, for me to get any support at all. This was limited to a 'formulation', for the upcoming parole hearing.

I also had to see Dr Oliver Field, the HMPPS forensic psychologist at HMP Downview. He was quite nasty and condescending and not qualified; he had never actually worked in a clinical setting or with private clients. I found it hard to speak to a man about childhood abuse, kidnapping, rapes and physical abuse at the hands of my parents. My background was similar to many women; we have gone through abuse and trauma and then we have to retell our stories over and over again, but no one helps.

My solicitor instructed an independent psychologist, Graham Rogers, an expert witness with over 30 years of experience in both the NHS and with private patients. He was instructed to provide a report for the parole hearing. After 15 years of being misdiagnosed, Mr Rogers diagnosed me with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While this was a relief, I was also very angry that my mental health had meant so little, to so many people and agencies. I was basically ignored by the people meant to be providing rehabilitation and treatment for so many years. 

My mental health got worse and worse. I started to self harm and cut myself in prison. I took other women's medication, just to numb the pain. I felt myself spiralling and having suicidal thoughts almost every day. Prison is dysfunctional, cruel and a waste of life.  Today, I am constantly hyper-alert. I have problems falling asleep and I find intimacy completely impossible.  My children are completely alienated because of what is written about me in the newspapers and years of imprisonment, for non-violent offences. I was harming myself, but I was not a risk to anyone, or so dangerous that I had to be kept in prison. I am so afraid and ashamed to reach out again, to just let them down again.

I was released by the Parole Board after a seven-hour hearing at which four probation officers and Dr Oliver Field opposed my release. Mr Rogers was so alarmed by Dr Field's conduct, he called it "abuse-parallelling behaviour."  I am happy the Parole Board was intelligent enough to see through the lies and deception HMPPS were feeding it. The chairman of the Parole Board told NPS staff that they were not credible witnesses, and the psychologist on the panel was shocked that I had received no treatment in prisons.

I sued CNWL NHS Foundation Trust because they failed me. They have lied, they do not release information that belongs to me, about me, they fail to respond to Freedom of Information requests, repeatedly claiming commercial confidentiality.  It is probably too late for me, but I don't want what has happened to me to happen to the other 30,000 women who are sent to prison every year by judges who don't understand how much harm they are causing. 

The Financial Background

NHS Foundations Trusts and private companies deliver prison mental health contracts. An extremely profitable relationship for these providers. Surprisingly, there is a distinct lack of accountability on the level and extent of services they are paid to provide. £400 million was spent by NHS England providing healthcare in adult prisons in England. Still, they can only estimate that £150 million was spent on mental health services and substance misuse services according to the latest figures available in the House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts*.

The Legal Case  

Ms L’s case is against CNWL NHS Foundation Trust, which failed to treat her initial misdiagnosis of Bipolar Personality Disorder (2005), and Complex Traumatic Stress Disorder (2019). 

As a result of her horrific childhood traumas, Ms L has a history of offending behaviour, spending considerable time in prison. She also has a long history of psychological disorders known to HMPPS (the prison service), and as the Department of State responsible for her wellbeing and health, it had a duty of care to treat her. She initially complained to the service provider but was not satisfied with their response - they stated that they were not contractually obliged to treat her mental health conditions as a remand prisoner.

She then escalated her situation to the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman, who upheld her complaint and found that CNWL NHS Foundation Trust had not met the terms of its contract. They reiterated that they did not need to treat her as she had been a remand prisoner. However, their contract states they must treat all women referred by the prison, in need of treatment and, she was, in fact, a custodial prisoner for two and half years of the five-year prison sentence imposed.

The Next Step

The next step, in this case, is to obtain an updated psychologist's report to confirm the harm caused to Ms L by the Trust's negligence. This report will enable an update to the Claim form detailing the long term damage caused to Ms L, whose daily life and functioning have been substantially impacted by the lack of mental health support she should have received.  Once completed, we will request the earliest date available for trial.

How much we are raising and why?

We are raising £10,000 to fully fund the consultant psychologist's report, the new legal team and proceed with the High Court Claim. Ms L is now represented by an outstanding legal team, Mr Tim Gir of Sanders Witherspoon LLP and leading barrister Mr Alan Barker, of the well respected public law, crime and human rights set led by Mike Mansfield QC, Nexus Chambers

Mr. Gir says, "I have worked for many years with offenders in the Criminal Justice System and lots of them have mental health problems. This was before mental health issues in the criminal justice arena were widely appreciated. Many of those are stuck in a pitiful circle of offending, poor mental health leading to repeat offending and then prison. Many, many people are serving time because they are unwell rather than bad. They are being punished because of their illness. It is extremely difficult to save those people from further punishment which then amplifies their problems. The courts lose patience with them, and they cross the custody threshold. 

Misdiagnosis in a case like this exposes a breach in the credibility of the system that I am sure so many work hard to prop up. We will help Ms. L to achieve restoration for the damage caused to her, so we appeal to everyone to please donate whatever you can to support her case.”

You should also know that the Respondent (CNWL),  through its clinical negligence insurance, funded by the taxpayer,  has retained one of the largest negligence defence claim firms in the UK, Clyde and Co**. Their client, CNWL NHS Foundation Trust, demanded four months to respond to the claim in May 2020, yet last month, Clyde and Co asked the court to strike out the claim, with costs of £14,000 against Ms L for her "lateness" in bringing her claim.

Why Are We Doing This? 

The View is a campaigning platform and a quarterly print magazine for women in the criminal justice system (CJS). We are raising funds for a crucial "test case" against CNWL NHS Foundation Trust put forward by Ms L,  permanently damaged by a consistent lack of mental health care from the CJS and the NHS.  

I, Clare Simms, am the managing editor of The  View Magazine CiC, a social enterprise publication that advocates for women in the criminal justice system. We publish a quarterly magazine providing a necessary platform to amplify the challenges, injustices and discrimination experienced by incarcerated women, women on license in the community and their families. Time and time again, we hear harrowing stories about the lack of vital mental health services available to women in prison and on release

Further Information and Expert Opinions and Findings by Mr Graham Rogers, a leading consultant psychologist please visit our website here

Mr Rogers strongly disputes the Ministry of Justice's claims that adequate mental health services are available in the prison system. Based on his own experience and publicly available information on the level of mental health services accessible by most prisoners, he casts serious doubt on a body of evidence provided to a High Court in another jurisdiction by the Ministry of Justice concerning Ms L. 

Duty of Care

It is not enough to ask what constitutes ‘appropriate care’ or even ‘good enough care’ for those with mental illness.  We also need to consider reasonable access to any form of care – getting an appointment with a mental care professional is difficult but getting to that appointment is virtually impossible.

 The prison population is extremely complex but dominated by those with mental health needs and those with learning, language and communication difficulties and disorders. Yet the prison system appears to be unable or unwilling to identify their needs or meet them.

*Eight Report of Session 2017-19(1)

 **Clyde and Co act for the Respondent in these proceedings. The firm employs 2,500 legal professionals and 4,000 total staff in over 50 offices in every global region, including Latin America, Africa, Europe, the U.S., Canada, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and the UK. In 2019-20, Clyde & Co's revenue was £627 million.

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Update 2

Clare Simms - The View

June 15, 2021

We have an angel philanthropist!

With 2 days left of our CrowdJustice appeal, to raise funds for a landmark legal case,  a philanthropist who heard the Legally Feminist podcast has offered to matchfund whatever we raise, up to £5 000.

Now is the time to get behind this campaign, one last, huge shove and we are across the finish line!

Please, support, donate and amplify.

You can hear what goaded our angel philanthropist to matchfund our campaign on the Legally Feminist Podcast here or wherever you access your podcasts.

We can't do this without you...

Thanks for your support!

Clare & The View Team.

Update 1

Clare Simms - The View

June 10, 2021

Mental Health Madness - a state of emergency.

It's been impossible to miss the recent coverage all over the news media about the state of emergency, across all mental health services. We have to ask ourselves why we are sending women to prison, on the pretext of rehabilitation and reform, under the guise of giving them mental health support, when the  reality is that they just can't access anything.

We just finished our submission to the Justice Committee's Inquiry on  the  women's prison estate. Our radical suggestion is that unless and until women can access decent mental health support, every woman that needs  treatment should not be given a custodial sentence. We are asking for justice reinvestment, so that community mental health teams can be properly funded and judges feel more confident about handing down community sentences.

Our landmark case will go some way to shining a light on how badly run and managed these vast mental health contracts are.  Please, keep sharing, supporting and pledging. We need your help to make this happen. 


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