CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Chalcots: Evacuation residents prescribed medication for anxiety and depression

Operation to amputate three fingers delayed

28 July, 2017 — By William McLennan

THE physical and psychological toll of the Chalcots evacuation on residents who left their homes in high-rise blocks over safety fears triggered by the Grenfell Tower tragedy can be laid bare for the first time today.

The New Journal has discovered that doctors have prescribed medication to residents suffering from anxiety and depression caused by the disruption, while others have experienced a worsening of pre-existing conditions.

One man who is recovering from a heart attack and another undergoing intensive chemotherapy are among the 3,000 people who have spent a month being shuttled between hotel rooms and temporary accommodation.

Many say Camden Council have failed to properly consider the impact on their health. Jelena Stephenson, whose husband Julian is being treated for chronic lymphoid leukaemia, feared the disruption would affect his health. An operation to amputate three fingers that had been damaged by cancer was delayed.

She said: “We never had the impression that we were treated as a priority. We weren’t asking for much. We didn’t want special accommodation. We just didn’t want to be moving between different places. We wanted to stay in one room to settle down and rest. For my husband that’s the most important thing.” After being admitted to hospital after a bad reaction to his latest bout of chemotherapy, the couple were forced to attend Swiss Cottage leisure centre to register for temporary accommodation.

Ms Stephenson said: “When Julian was out of hospital we had to go to the leisure centre and he had to wear a mask to protect him from germs. It was not adequate for my immune-compromised husband and that’s what I was trying to avoid.”

Saranda Hajdari, who lives in on the 10th floor of Burnham with her parents and siblings, has felt the pressure mount in recent weeks. She said: “I represented my family with all correspondence with Camden and I have been very badly treated. The stress this has caused me personally is unbelievable. I have been to the doctors’ who have prescribed anti-depressants and have told me I am not fit to work because of stress and anxiety.”

Michelle Urqhuart said the discovery that the building was unsafe had brought back haunting memories of an earlier fire at Dorney. She has been prescribed anti-anxiety medication by her GP. She said: “That fire keeps going through my mind. The smoke was billowing up the stairs. I’m having counselling because in the first two weeks I was having panic attacks.”

Khudeja Begum said she was worried about the impact on her children. She said: “I was walking my six-year-old to school and she asked me what would happen if there is a fire in our house. She said, ‘we can’t go out the window, we would die’. A six-year-old shouldn’t be thinking about things like that. That broke my heart.”

Simon Morris, who has spent the month out of London, said: “Whenever I have had to try and deal with Camden, that’s when my anxiety goes sky high. They don’t seem to get quite how traumatic this whole thing has been, being evacuated from your home. I keep emphasising they are homes, not flats. For Camden, they are just flats.”

Christopher Mason, who edits Getting Better, a newsletter for the mental health community in Camden, said: “When you consider that 400 people in every 1,000 suffer with mental health problems in their lives, then the enormity of the problem becomes apparent. “There are two main groups of people involved here. The first consists of those people who have enduring mental health problems and have been faced with the trauma of being decanted. The second includes people who find themselves newly stressed because of events happening around them.”

Council leader Georgia Gould said: “We are taking an individual approach and we have done all the way through, working with social workers, family support workers and the mental health trust to make sure people are supported who had existing conditions or health issues. “We have also identified new issues and made referrals. I have talked to so many people who have been very stressed and made very anxious by this whole experience. We are looking to work with the voluntary sector to do some events and put in more support in the estate more generally to support people, but where there is an individual issue we are making referral to offer them support, or their children support. I recognise it’s going to take time.” She said that social workers had been on the estates from the first day of the evacuation.

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