Article published: Thursday, October 4th 2012
Cuts to mental health services, including axing 38 front line posts as part of a bid to save £28m over the next five years, have been approved by Manchester’s Mental Health and Social Care Trust, despite warnings from patients and trade unions.
The Trust gave the go-ahead to major changes to Manchester’s mental health services last week after months of controversy. Local patients’ group Manchester Users Network, backed by the public sector union Unison, have been in a bitter fight to save their community mental health services and recently threatened legal action on grounds of insufficient consultation.
Manchester Users Network warn that the proposed 20 per cent cuts to the service and the loss of 46 staff would have dire consequences and, in April 2012, lodged a claim for a judicial review that led the Trust to back down and launch a new consultation. In a decision announced on Thursday 27 September 38 staff from teams that support over 3,000 clients will go in a move expected to save £1.9m.
The Trust plans to replace the existing eight community care teams with six as part of their service reorganisation.
Community team cuts
In its official response, the Trust argues the changes will mean quicker and easier access to services regardless of where service users live in the city. It also denies the changes are about saving money, saying “what we are seeking to do is maintain and improve upon that quality of care by reconfiguring the way in which we have delivered these services to date.”
The Trust claims services will improve despite the cut in the number of teams. People who use the service fear that valued drop-in centres may be closed as a result of reduced staff numbers, although Unison officials say the centres will not be affected by the current changes despite previous cuts.
Responding after the decision, the Trust said they wish to “minimise the impact on staff as much as possible.”
Unison strongly opposes the changes and feels that the Trust “ignored staff and service user concerns about the impact these job cuts will have on frontline care” as a result of increased staff workloads which will leave the service over-stretched.
At a Unison-hosted campaign meeting held last week the union branch secretary Caroline Ridgway told Mule, “Our branch position and our demand is that we can’t have any cuts to staff in Manchester Mental Health Trust.”
She added, “It’s a shame that we have to wait for a solicitor to be involved and for them to be forced into consulting with the members and unfortunately that doesn’t surprise us about this Trust.”
“This means that you are not able to spend as long with each service user”, she said, which “therefore limits the interventions you can deliver towards helping the person to move forward and work towards rebuilding their life.” Unison said they cannot rule out industrial action and will meet with members this week to formulate an on-going plan.
Manchester Users Network fear the loss of posts will have a drastic effect on service users and allege that some people with mental health problems are “being discharged without having received the therapy they need.”
They are also worried about how service users will cope without vital community services, saying “the most vulnerable people in society who can’t speak out are having life-line services cut.”
Users of the service at last week’s campaign meeting spoke of their fears of becoming isolated and worry that suicides will increase if drop-in centres are closed. One user of the service said that “I’d end up in a box” if the cuts go ahead.”
Another, who said he had seen his life change dramatically since attending the drop-in centres, told Mule his fears that “a lot of people would end up committing suicide” if the centres experience any more cuts. “A lot of people would end up being more isolated because they’ve not got any immediate family”, he explained, “so the only time that they get to meet anybody is when they come to these drop-in centres.”
He spoke of the importance of these services for users and said that the activities run by drop-in centres get people out of the house and give them a safe environment where they can go and not be judged. He also pointed to the importance of being with people who can understand what it feels like to have a mental illness. “They’ve all been through it or are going through it”, he added.
A home carer, whose husband is a service user, talked about the negative impact the decision to cut services would have on her life. Her husband suffers from mental illness and has made 21 attempts on his life in the last two and a half years. She said that if the cuts go ahead “I could become a widow, basically.”
Since joining the drop-in centres, her husband’s suicide attempts have reduced and his difficulties have lessened but fears that further cuts may undo all the positive steps that they have made.
“If that’s taken away from him now he will just crumble”, she said. “The disorder he has reacts badly to change, reacts badly to that sort of situation, with care being taken away and it’s so scary.”
An assistant practitioner at East Community Manchester Health Team spoke about her fears for the service users. “We need to have community teams safely staffed”, she said. “I think if we don’t, I fear something dreadful could happen.”
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