Sheer madness

Here’s my latest Ham & High column:

A woman came to see me recently to tell me of the appalling state of Haringey’s mental health services. Her husband is bi-polar and sometimes suicidal. From time to time he has to be admitted to the acute ward at St Ann’s – our local mental health facility.

She says the ward is enough to make you want to kill yourself. It is a ward with psychotic and highly disturbed patients. If you or I were placed in such a ward – we would be frightened – as was my constituent’s partner. He was so frightened he could not sleep at all due to the noise and disturbances from the other patients throughout the night – and of course these conditions hardly assist recovery or state of mind.

And when he’s at home and there are troubles – the theoretically 24-hour help is often on answerphone – and when not, she has even been advised just to give her husband warm milk! What a contrast with Camden, where – if you need help – a psychiatric nurse will come to your house to deal with the situation – and perhaps remove the need for admission to hospital.

To add insult to injury – with so many vulnerable people who need so much help – the Mental Health Trust is now proposing to reduce the number of acute beds at St Ann’s Hospital for those who do need admission. It may be unsuitable for some admissions – but it is all we have and we need a place of safety for those who are in acute crisis.

I am meeting with the Chair and Chief Executive and will point out how for many people, these beds are often the last resort. Acute wards are, even in St Ann’s, a place where a severely ill person is surrounded by professional nurses and doctors – even though the circumstances are clearly not ideal.

Haringey residents come to my advice surgeries to tell me how they have not been able to get their loved partner / child / parent admitted into an acute ward – despite obvious need. Of course each case has its own particular circumstances, but from questions I have asked in Parliament, it is clear that there are more people to each bed in Haringey than for almost any other area in London – and that’s before the proposed closures.

The Trust claims that people in acute need can be dealt with adequately in the community. I do welcome more support in the community, but in moments of crisis there must be the option for a higher degree of care and supervision.

And unless the care in the community is exemplary, then reducing beds in the in-patient facility we have seems mad. We should be investing in making the acute wards better – not reducing beds. My own angst is that the Trust is in such a state it is making these reductions for cost purposes rather than meeting the needs of those with mental health issues in Haringey.

The Trust is currently consulting on the issue – so now is the time for us to have our say. I am keen to hear your views, particularly if you have any direct experience of our local mental health services, so I can feed them into the consultation. You can write to me at lynne@lynnefeatherstone.org or House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. Please indicate whether you wish for your views to be treated confidentially or if you are happy for me to share them with the Trust.

The consultation deadline is the 23rd March, so please make sure that I get your views before then. If you want to find out a bit more about the consultation, have a look at the Trust’s website.

Also, my Liberal Democrat colleague Councillor Ron Aitken is chairing a scrutiny review at Haringey Council on the proposals – two public meetings are planned . The first was on Monday 2nd March but the next is on Wednesday 25th March at 6pm at Haringey Civic Centre. Please do come along and share your views.

All too often mental health is treated as the Cinderella service of the NHS and rarely gets the prominence or the resources it needs and deserves. I am determined that this should not be the case in our Borough.

0 thoughts on “Sheer madness

  1. I agree that cutting in-patient beds is incredibly short-sighted. I work in a mental health team in a neighbouring borough (although I am a Haringey resident) and although hospitalisation is unpleasant and everything should be done to avoid it, worse is not having access to beds when they are absolutely needed or placing someone in a hospital away from their home area. I’m concerned about St Ann’s. I’m not sure things are are perfect in Camden as you make out though – you know those crisis teams even have social workers in them (!) They are multi-disciplinary but that’s besides the point. The crisis services are stretched across London. Closing in-patient beds can be very short-sighted.

  2. The “Madness” took place years ago when Victorian asylums (by definitions, places of refuge) were suddenly condemned, closed and theoretically replaced by underfunded impracticable ‘care in the community’. Everyone could see it was a disaster and would cause immense suffering. Some ex patients survived on the streets. Many did not. We are witnessing the aftermath of some blunderbuss policy making by pea brained politicians.

  3. Rita Wright – counsellor and author has much to say in agreement with Lynne’s last blog and will be coming to the meeting on the 25th. I have some hair raising stories!!

  4. I have been a professional counsellor since the eighties. Reading Lynne’s words made my heart sink. Has nothing changed? I was hearing stories like this a long time ago and its unbelievable in 2009 people are still being treated so badly. I left the private London hospital where I was a therapist during the nineties because it was all about the money and the insurance policies. I’ve seen people turfed out when their money ran out and sent to inadequate units where at least one decided to discharge himself and end his life. He was twenty-five. I will be coming to the meeting on the 25th March

  5. I agree with much that she has said so far, particularly about the specific case of Finsbury ward. Frankly, I support care in the community in principle. It is my considered view that this would be successful if, for instance, the support available was sufficiently resourced with infrastructure and funding appropriately placed in the community. There are no specific plans in the consultation document of this or any other similar plans. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee, in consultation with users, the public, and members of the PCT and Trust, have systematically explored the best way forward. At this point, I wish not to comment whilst the process is ongoing. There is a meeting on the 25th and I would encourage you all to attend. I know that some would wish to join me in expressing our great gratitude to the professionally driven organisation who had been hired to conduct the whole consultation procedure.

  6. Lynne Will you be coming on Wednesday as I think the presence of the MP would be beneficial.