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 email@example.com 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.