Mum's heartbreak as daughter is sent back to 'traumatic' Nottinghamshire mental hospital

Sophie Towle, left, in blue vest and Leisa Towle, right in floral dress
Leisa Towle (R) says her daughter Sophie (L) is struggling again after returning to Nottinghamshire Healthcare's Sherwood Oaks -Credit:Leisa Towle

A family who thought they'd finally found solace for their vulnerable daughter in a Doncaster mental health hospital have been left devastated after she was forced back to a "traumatic" ward in Nottinghamshire. Sophie Towle, from Mapperley, has been in and out of mental health care since 2021 and has experienced "distressing" stays in both Highbury Hospital and Sherwood Oaks in Nottinghamshire.

Both are run by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Then in 2023, Sophie was sectioned in Doncaster's Tickhill Road Hospital and her experience had been much better - before she was told out of the blue that she was returning to Nottingham without warning and against her will.

Her mother, Leisa Towle, said: "I'm incredibly angry. She'd finally got somewhere where she felt listened to and cared about. She was my daughter again and she hadn't been for a couple of years really. Now all the progress she's made has been completely obliterated."

Sophie, who is 22 and has borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), had first come to Highbury Hospital in the city as an informal patient in September 2021. Within a month, however, she had disappeared and been found on the side of a motorway.

She was then sectioned, meaning she was lawfully detained at the site, for six months. During this time, Leisa says that Sophie would ring her and tell her about goings on at the hospital, such as staff telling her there were "people worse off" than her and there being "nobody she knows" working on weekends.

At one point, she was moved to a different ward and given the reason that "someone else needed" the bed. It was not for her benefit, Leisa says, and meant Sophie had to get to know a new doctor, advocate, psychologist and staff.

The incident "completely knocked her" and the progress she had made "had gone", said Leisa. The family made a formal complaint to Nottingham's Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) about this, as well as an incident where Sophie was reprimanded for bringing a weighted blanket back from her parents' house and then banned from having leave over a weekend.

The one positive that had come from Sophie's stay was a friend she had made, called Louise Furlong. Louise died aged 19, while still a patient at the hospital, on September 12, 2022. A date for her inquest has not yet been set.

Sophie was later discharged from Highbury into the community. In this period she lived on her own in a supported living flat and, after what Leisa describes as a long delay, was appointed with a Community Psychiatric Nurse in January 2023 to support. In May 2023, she was sectioned again after being found having climbed over the barrier on Trent Bridge.

This time, she was brought to Sherwood Oaks Hospital in Mansfield. Leisa says that, at this time, Sophie was at risk of self-harm, had told staff she'd end her life if she left, and had been rightly prohibited from using cutlery.

But nine days later, she was discharged without warning, leaving Leisa concerned and worried. Sophie spent the next two weeks disappearing on multiple occasions and also overdosed on painkillers more than once.

Sophie also complained to PALS herself about her discharge and her time on the ward, reporting that staff called her pathetic, shouted at her and accused her of harming herself deliberately when observations were due. Nottinghamshire Healthcare apologised to her in response, saying it was "very sorry" for her experience with their staff's behaviour and that it was "never acceptable".

They explained to her that her discharge was because the psychiatrists and doctors attributed her behaviour and comments to being "in the context of EUPD." In the explanation, they also said that mental health wards are "known to have a negative effect on patients in some cases", arguing that Sophie appeared more at risk in the ward than in the community.

She later spent another stint at Highbury after being sectioned again following more cases of disappearing and overdosing, before being discharged in September 2023. A few weeks later, she was found having overdosed in a hotel and after being taken to hospital, was sectioned and taken to Doncaster due to a lack of beds in Nottinghamshire.

Leisa Towle said she has "no complaints" about Sophie's time in Doncaster. The hospital assigned a member of staff to look after her on a 1-1 basis, which hadn't happened in Nottinghamshire, and Sophie built up a "really good trust" during her time there, Leisa said.

But at the end of March, she was told there were plans to move Sophie back to Nottinghamshire. Leisa and her family tried their best to make it clear that they didn't want to be moved back.

But on Wednesday, April 24, transport arrived to take Sophie back. Leisa was only informed by her daughter, and drove towards Doncaster before being told when she was 20 minutes away that Sophie had stepped into the taxi to avoid being handled by police.

Sophie is now back at Sherwood Oaks. Investigations are taking place into Sophie's treatment and the lack of contact that took place before her being transported back to Nottingham, and Leisa has made a formal complaint to the CQC.

Leisa said: "You put your trust in these people to keep them safe. Whoever it is that actioned this transfer has got some serious questions to answer.

"It just feels like a constant fight to get the care. There have been some people who have been excellent. Some of the staff in Highbury are absolutely brilliant - but equally, there are some people who shouldn't be in the job. I want people to know what's happening there. This will be happening to some people who haven't got anybody to help them and fight for them."

Paula Vaughan, Mental Health Care Group Director at Nottinghamshire Healthcare said: “We take all concerns raised very seriously. We are unable to comment on specific cases due to patient confidentiality.

"However, we would encourage anyone with concerns to speak with the lead clinician in the first instance, or contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service, email:, so we can work with the patient and their family to resolve any concerns, and ensure they are confident in the quality of care they are receiving.”

Steve Forsyth, Chief Nurse at Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have a duty to all of our patients to maintain confidentiality, so we won’t discuss anyone’s care.

“It is always our first priority to ensure we treat people as close to home as possible. Sometimes we admit people who may be from outside of our geographical area, this will mean we ensure they are receiving the right care, in the right environment with the right staff, however we always transfer the patient back to their local services, so they are close to their family and friends.

“Our Patient Advice and Liaison Team are always happy to speak to patients who have a complaint about any aspect of our service or care and they can be contacted by emailing”