MENTAL HEALTH HELL IN SALFORD: PART ONE
Maybe to Salford City Council, the City Mayor and the Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust campaigners against cuts to mental health services are just an annoyance. What, with waving banners, and going on marches, and talking to the media about `broken promises' to protect the most vulnerable people in society... it really doesn't look good.
The City Mayor, Ian Stewart, only last week wrote that "I am determined to ensure that council services are protected for the most vulnerable people in our community, including those with mental health difficulties. Misleading and irresponsible information has caused needless concern to some of these service users, their carers and families…"
For Ian Stewart - who we don't think has mental health issues – such statements are easy to make. For those actually living with mental health problems, and trying to cope with the stress of potential cuts to services that they rely on, it's another matter entirely. As shocking recent incidents show.
Mental health service user Rob, from Irlam, has already attempted to take his own life many times this year, and Greater Manchester West Mental Health Trust workers are well aware of his severe problems. He has a care plan in place with a whole list of crisis items to alert those workers to potential incidents. These include thoughts of acts of self harm, a withdrawn mood and increased alcohol consumption.
Rob is currently in transition between care co-ordinators, and both his current care worker and his care worker-to-be had, we understand, ample warnings that these triggers were about to be pulled, before Rob was rejected at the door of Cromwell House on Wednesday 24th October. Rather than helping a desperate man, instead, the police were called and he was arrested. Less than a week later, he tried to kill himself.
"Rob had been in distress for days, he'd been taken into A&E on the Saturday with a serious self harming incident and was in a very low state of mind" recalls his partner and carer, Vee Ball "He'd been into Cromwell House on the Monday, voiced his suicidal tendencies to his care co-ordinator to be, to which nothing was done. Other users had flagged up concern for him because he was becoming increasingly withdrawn. Again, nothing was done.
"On the Wednesday itself when the incident occurred it could have been avoided because a service user went to his existing care co-ordinator and stated his concern but she actually said he was nothing to do with her any more" Vee adds "Rob felt very upset and rejected by this and he attempted to call her from home later that afternoon after he had been to the drop-in. During the conversation she put the phone down on him and this provoked him to go direct to the premises to seek help. He charged out of the house in a state of distress."
Rob drove to Cromwell House, and in the car park began drinking with the intention of killing himself, Vee explains. Instead, he decided to seek help and pressed the buzzer on the entry system of the building. He wasn't allowed entry, the police were called and he was arrested.
"He was removed initially because they were flagging him up as a danger rather than taking him in, assessing him first and ascertaining his state of mind before taking any drastic action" says Vee "They got him arrested without any entry or without speaking to him which is diabolical. He has no history of violence at all."
Friend and fellow service user, Steve Cullen, arrived on the scene to see Rob being confronted by police…
"Vee phoned me to say Rob that had just stormed out of the house saying he'd had enough" Steve recalls "I said `Don't worry, I'll go to Cromwell House and let the doctors know what's going on and try and get some help and support for him'. But as I got there I saw four police officers surrounding Rob.
"I went over to try and explain the situation to the police but all I got told was `Go away or you're going to get yourself arrested as well'" he adds "I tried to explain that Rob had mental health issues and why he was going to Cromwell House but kept getting told to go away."
Steve tried to speak to Rob's doctor at Cromwell House but was told by a senior Community Psychiatric Nurse that he was with another client…
"He said `It's nothing to do with us now, it's a police matter, it's coming up to 5pm and we've got to close the door'. And he told me to go" says Steve "Next thing I know another police van turned up and Rob was put in the back of it."
Rob was not arrested for any act of aggression. He went willingly into the van and wasn't handcuffed. Nor was he subsequently charged with any public order offence.
He was taken to Swinton Police Station and released at midnight, charged with drink driving… "He only had a drink whilst he was sat in the car park because he was going to take an overdose with the alcohol" says Steve "but he wasn't actually driving the vehicle at the time."
To recap, as we understand it... A man with severe mental health issues asks his care workers for help which he doesn't get. He goes down to their HQ intending to kill himself outside. But instead decides to seek help by buzzing at the door. He's not allowed into the building. No-one assesses his state of mind. No-one refers to his personal crisis care plan. Instead the police are called and he is arrested. But not for any aggressive act, only on the assumption of drink driving. People might well ask what the hell is going on? And what the mental health services are there for, if not to help desperate people.
"Nobody contacted Rob from Cromwell House to check on his well being nor the following day to asses the difficulties going forward" says Vee "It was Friday at 5pm when I got a phone call flagging up Rob as a security issue. He's been barred from Cromwell House for a month, and can't even go to the drop-in - for coming to the door asking for help?"
If this was the end of the shocking story it would be bad enough. A sorry tale of what could be perceived as neglect of a service user with severe mental health problems. Unfortunately this is only the beginning…
It's only the beginning because the carers and service users involved in this shocking episode also happen to be very publicly fighting cuts to mental health services and drop-in groups in Salford…
…Two days after Rob's incident at Cromwell House, all drop-ins in the city were shut down. And within a week, another service user, dismayed at the drop-in closures, tried to kill herself. Last week, Rob also attempted to take his life.
See Part Two… click here "It's like Mafia sanctions on certain people to eradicate them and divide and conquer" says Rob's partner Vee Ball "The lack of care is evident. What do they want? For him to successfully kill himself and then he's off their books? And one less gobby person to fight to save the drop-ins…"
• The Salford Star put all these allegations to the Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.
On this particular episode of our article, Gill Green, Director of Nursing and Operations responded…
"We are concerned that service users and carers have made these allegations against our staff. While we cannot go into individual cases or matters which are subject to police investigation, I would like to reassure the people of Salford that we treat all our service users with compassion, respect, dignity and professionalism. We would never turn someone away who is in genuine need of our help.
"That said, we do have a zero tolerance attitude to violence and aggression towards staff and they have a right to feel safe when they are at work. In extreme cases, the police are called if behaviour becomes threatening or dangerous to the individual and those around them…The safety and security of staff, service users and carers remain our top priority. We are looking carefully at what has happened to see if there are any lessons to be learned…"