The mother of Becky Romero, a teenager who died because of mental health cuts, has called a protest to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.
Becky, a 15 year old from Bristol, died on 19 July shortly after contacting the Child Line charity. The Avon Coroner ruled last week that a lack of NHS resources saw a “gross failure to provide basic medical attention” and “contributed to her death by neglect".
Nicky Romero, Becky’s mother, told Socialist Worker, “There are a hundred Beckys out there waiting for a bed.
“I’ve got friends in Manchester and Bristol going through the same now."
Becky was admitted to Bristol Children’s Hospital in June. Nicky said, “Becky needed around the clock care. We were worried all the time not knowing what we’d find at home. She said she didn’t feel safe.”
But Riverside—Bristol’s only adolescent mental health unit—had just nine beds. “I think it’s ridiculous that a city of this size only has that many,” said Nicky.
And underfunding of mental health services meant Becky was failed at every turn.
The lack of beds at Riverside forced Becky to go 80 miles to Pebble Lodge in Bournemouth. Nicky said, “I would have gone to Timbuktu, we just wanted wanted her to be safe.
“Becky was a vulnerable, shy child who had never even had a sleep over with friends, but she did it to get better.”
“But I don’t think Becky got that care at Pebble Lodge," she added.
Because Bournemouth was only supposed to be temporary, health workers did not start long-term psychiatric treatment. On the first night at Pebble Lodge, Becky attempted to take her own life.
Becky was moved from Pebble Lodge back to Bristol. Nicky said, “Pebble Lodge said that Becky had wanted to go.
“Of course she wanted to go, she had deep-seated health issues. She was shy and far away from home.
“Becky came home on 6 July on ‘extended weekend leave’ and she said, 'I want to go back'. But we were told it was best not go back—and they said it definitely wasn’t to do with funding.”
She added, “We felt that they had made up their minds no matter what we said.
“We had no support after that time.”
After leaving Bournemouth Becky was put onto a community care package.
Despite a visit from a social worker and two introductory visits from outreach workers, the package left Becky vulnerable during the summer holidays. Nicky said, “One of the things it talked about was a buddy system in school, but that was in September.
“As for immediate care there was nothing in place—it had gone from 24 hours to 1 hour a week.”
And the bed Becky needed did become available. Nicky said, “We didn’t find out until the inquest that three times a bed became available.
“There was a bed at the time she was discharged.”
Because Becky was at Pebble Lodge then on a care package, she didn’t get the bed at Riverside.
There was no 24 hour hotline or support on the weekends that they could lean on. Nicky said, “All she was given was Samaritans and Child Line.
“4.52am on 19 July was the last time Becky was in contact with them, she told them that she was scared, then she went into the bath.”
Nicky is determined to make sure something like this can never happen again.
That’s why she’s part of a protest on 13 January calling for justice for Becky—Becky’s death took place in the context of Tory cuts to the NHS that have decimated mental health and social care services.
The NHS needs a sharp injection of cash. As Nicky said, “We need funding and beds and there needs to be a back up plan when there aren’t.”