19 Jul Coronavirus: Mental health patients ‘at risk of contracting COVID-19 in London hospital’ | UK News
Patients displaying mental illnesses St George’s Hospital in south London are being asked to wait in areas where they are at risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, according to mental health workers.
Staff at the hospital in Tooting have told Sky News that mentally ill patients who do not display coronavirus symptoms are asked to wait for up to 24 hours in A&E “red zone” areas designated for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
“I remember being asked to go into the red zone to see a patient, and being told that in several of the cubicles there were people who were being treated for end-of-life treatment, who were suffering with COVID, and we were just standing a few feet away from them,” said one of the mental health workers, speaking anonymously.
At the start of the pandemic, the hospital split its A&E department into “red zones” and “green zones” for COVID and non-COVID patients, respectively, but left the mental health waiting room inside the former.
These rooms, specially designed to ensure patients cannot harm themselves or others, are common in A&E departments, and their detailed specifications mean they are not easy to relocate.
St George’s Hospital confirmed that its assessment room is inside the area described as the red zone but said it is “completely separate”, despite shared toilets, access and exit points.
“Our number one priority is that everyone can get the care they need in as safe a way as possible, which is why we have put in place strict infection prevention and control measures to protect everyone visiting our emergency department, which are followed at all times,” a spokesperson said.
“We are following rigorous infection prevention and control guidelines, and are confident that these keep patients safe.”
Another mental health worker described the room to Sky News.
“It’s in the middle of the area designated for COVID-19 patients. You can’t exit or enter the room without walking through a potentially contaminated area. Some of the patients are being held there for hours. You can imagine during that time they would need to go to the bathroom, maybe go out for a cigarette, for some fresh air.”
The health workers provided Sky News with a list of 15 patients who were not triaged, showed no COVID-19 symptoms but were made to wait in red zone areas.
They say many were not aware of the risks they are exposed to.
“Obviously in A&E they can only be there for a limited amount of time. They would either move on to a ward or they would simply be discharged back home. Now, if you go on to a ward, you can imagine the potential for spreading COVID-19 if that person did pick up the virus within A&E. Or they go home to a loved one, their family and friends, who can then be contaminated,” said a health worker.
The mental health charity Mind called the practice “shocking”.
“We’ve gone to huge efforts to divide emergency departments up between the different zones for people who have symptoms and who don’t have symptoms, and then to just automatically put people with mental health problems into the zone where they’re at danger of catching the infection is just extraordinary,” said Sophie Corlett, director of external relations at Mind.
“There cannot be an excuse for it. We know that they’ve been able to build whole hospitals during this emergency.”
The first mental health worker we spoke to said the matter has been repeatedly raised with relevant authorities but that the practice continued.
“I can’t conceive of anything more discriminatory against people with mental health problems than forcing them against their will and against their knowledge in going into the most contaminated COVID place within the borough,” they said.