Campaigners against cuts to Salford mental health services took their fight to the doorstep of the Greater Manchester West NHS Trust in Prestwich last week.
With a consultation on the future of the service still ongoing, campaigners argue that changes have already been implemented as they have been denied access to their normal Trust drop-in building at Cromwell House on the grounds of `security' and put into Salford Council run centres (see previous article – click here)…
"We're going through a consultation process and were promised that there would be no changes whatsoever to the groups and drop ins but what has happened since October is that these drop-in centres have been closed for no apparent reason, it's different excuses all the time" says Stephen Cullen of United Service Users Committee, USUC.
"Our understanding is that they want to keep us out of the drop-in centres in purpose built mental health units, and put us into community centres mixing with the general public" he adds "People with mental health issues can't always mix with the general public; like someone with Tourette's can shout, swear and be abusive. They don't mean any offence by it but that is part of their illness, so you can't have people like that mixing with mothers and their babies."
Indeed, Councillor Peter Connor, Assistant Mayor for Adult Services has confirmed to the Salford Star that this, indeed, is the case…
"Extensive consultation with service users highlighted that people value groups and drop-ins but also that some people will not get involved because they fear being stigmatised for going to a mental health building" he says "We must tackle this barrier to recovery and break down that stigma. That's why we want to move the service into the community and use community centres and other buildings such as libraries and sports centres."
As well as possible issues with the general public, Stephen Cullen highlights problems with service users that have occurred so far…
"We've had a drop-in at the Broughton Hub, and the Rainbow Centre which was in a room 15ft square, and if you get a dozen people in there they can hardly move, service users are saying they feel like they're in a fishbowl, the rooms are closing in on them and they won't go to them" he says "In turn the Trust are getting their way because people are not going to them, and we've noticed a decline in the mental health of service users some of whom have attempted suicide."
USUC is convinced that the Mental Health Trust wants the the drop-ins out of its buildings to enable more office space for its staff. Meanwhile, the other draft Council proposal is to increase one-to-one support to an extra fifty service users a year, employing one new person – even though the Council has recently axed three posts, including two care workers?
"They've taken two care workers away, and are saying they want to increase one-to-one support from 196 people getting two hours support, to 246 people getting three hours support, with two less staff" says Stephen Cullen "I don't understand the maths. There's not enough hours in the week to do it!"
Assistant Mayor, Peter Connor remains upbeat…
"We will re-invest £20,000 from savings in expanding and developing groups and drop ins and bring in a dedicated member of staff from the health improvement team to run and support them" he explains "People will still receive support from the groups and drop ins but will have a wider range of activities to get involved in.
"We appreciate that some current service users will inevitably and understandably be anxious about any change" he adds "and we will support and help them through the transition to an improved service, which carries no stigma, is more focused on their needs and prospects of recovery - and reaches more local people."
Service users and their representatives remain `understandably anxious' about the changes, and are linking up with groups around the country facing similar `consultations' and changes to mental health services.
Outside the Greater Manchester West Mental Health Trust last week, USUC Chair, Vee Ball, spoke to staff inside the building through a megaphone, as no-one would come out to meet the campiagners…
"We're here with our banners to show that we're not prepared to accept your ridiculous proposal to abandon these people from the community support that they've found most successful for the last fifteen years" she said "Over the last few months people have not been allowed to reach this support in Trust buildings and it's caused a lot of distress.
"This is a very serious issue, it's not a question of paper audit trails and consultations which don't happen the way they should do" she added "It's a matter of people's lives at stake, which you are refusing to acknowledge. We've been to the Council and now we thought we'd bring it to the real villains of the piece – you lot."
We asked someone from the Greater Manchester West NHS Mental Health Trust to comment but they declined, passing the buck to Salford Council.
Anyone wishing to comment on the proposals can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 793 3832 by February 28 to share their views. A final decision on the shape of future service will be taken in March.
See previous Salford Star articles on USUC's campaigning...
Salford Council Chamber Occupied - click here
Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband promises to have a word with Salford Mayor - click here
Campaigners Confront Salford Mayor - click here