• Louize Small

Mental Health Practitioner Sacked for Questioning Covid Policies

Daniel Ashley was fired from his job as a mental health practitioner for speaking out against unhealthy, damaging working policies rolled out in the wake of the pandemic. In a fateful email he said he hated the NHS because he was so frustrated with restrictions and changes to procedures impacting negatively on patients in crisis and overstretched staff.

Now unemployed and taking a stand, Daniel is actively campaigning for changes in policies under the Instagram handle @danielblowswhistles. He has gained a lot of support from colleagues and other NHS workers around the country but says more need to come forward to share their stories.

One disturbing policy was the sudden introduction of uniforms along with PPE as the pandemic took hold. Daniel says that mental health practitioners don’t traditionally wear uniforms as they are seen as dehumanising and can encourage division between staff and patients.

“The fact that we didn’t wear uniforms was the result of decades of scientific research into behaviour and psychology. Just look at the Stanford Prison Experiment. It seems they cherry-pick the research to fit their policies.”

In a heartfelt email to Sajid Javid, Mr Ashley says that since uniforms were introduced there has been a seismic shift in the way staff talk about patients. He recalls co-workers discussing patients ‘acting up’ and ‘winding us up’ and talk of sedating troublesome patients for the night shift and putting films on to ‘keep them busy’.

Daniel says that patients are seen as something to manage, rather than humans going through a difficult time, and that there has been a massive move backwards towards old-fashioned medical models of treatment as more modern therapy and activities are pushed aside for ‘safety’ reasons.

“When I started, restraint and sedation were only used in extreme circumstances, when the situation couldn’t be handled any other way. Now it’s an everyday occurrence.”

The mandatory wearing of PPE in a mental health setting and the isolation of new patients awaiting covid assessment causes undue stress to patients and staff alike. On Christmas day last year Daniel observed a man in his seventies who had tried to end his life by jumping off a bridge:

“There has been a surge in attempted suicides and people with no previous mental health problems coming into the system for the first time. The elderly man was clearly suffering and in need of support yet we put him in isolation while awaiting covid status confirmation and left cups of tea just inside the door. He had no contact with anyone in his darkest moments.”

Daniel once had to assess an elderly female victim of sexual assault whilst wearing full PPE. The lady was clearly distraught and asked him to remove his mask because she wanted to be able to see his face when he talked. He admits he broke the rules and granted her wish and knows others who have done the same to uphold compassion and dignity for those in their care who are often terrified, fragile and in need of connection.

Things haven’t been easy for staff, either. They want to continue offering excellent care to patients but more often end up feeling like prison guards in the current climate. Morale is low. Many were put on furlough or remote working long ago and the use of agency staff has increased to around 50% in some places.

The problem with agency staff is that they don’t get to know the patients, who need familiar, friendly faces and people who know their stories. There is low continuity of care and details get missed. In addition, agency staff do not receive a package of support like those employed directly by NHS trusts. They are left to fend for themselves when things get tough at work and it often affects their own mental health.

Struggling himself, Daniel took time off last summer as the strict rules and regulations became too much to navigate. He was caught lowering his mask on several occasions and was chastised for ‘killing people’ and ‘putting people at risk’. He later became ill and went travelling for a few months to get away from it all. When he returned to work in November he noticed how dehumanised things had become for all involved. He now considers it a broken system in desperate need of repair.

Daniel trained as a TV producer and planned to make human-interest documentaries but became a mental health practitioner following a friend’s suicide attempt in 2017. He took an intensive course at Middlesex University, where he was taught ‘therapeutic alliance’ techniques and trained in the importance of body language and good communication. He says he was passionately encouraged to be a mental health revolutionary.

Initially involved with crisis teams in London, Daniel joined the NHS national bank and has worked for trusts all over the country, observing a broad spectrum of working practices, from affluent Surrey to deprived central Manchester. He says there should be a consistent standard of care from NHS services across the country but that is not the case in reality as each trust allocates funds and resources differently.

He has approached the Covid19 Assembly, an organisation offering support to NHS whistleblowers, and is sending regular emails to key figures in government, media and health to draw attention to our dangerously dysfunctional mental health service, which provides neither the patients nor the staff with the solutions they desperately need.

Daniel feels much better since speaking out and is looking to make connections with other mental health and NHS workers who would like to share their experiences and make a positive difference to the shape of future health provision.

Follow him at: @danielblowswhistles on Instagram




Copyright: Louize Small, September 2021