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Norfolk MP tells health bosses they must find cash to fund vital mental health helpline

PUBLISHED: 07:38 22 February 2016 | UPDATED: 08:57 02 March 2016

Mind support line.  Ben Marshall, team leader. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mind support line. Ben Marshall, team leader. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

Mental health sufferers who use an at risk crisis support line are today hoping to have a breakthrough in their campaign to save the service, after a health minister and Norfolk MP waded into the row.

Concerns raised before helpline launched

Services for mental health patients suffering a crisis were described as “confusing and complicated” and “poor” during out-of-hours, in a report drawn up before Mind launched its helpline.

Health bosses say that from March 31, people who currently call on the Mind service will be able to rely on Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s Crisis Resolution Home Team, which has a 24/7 helpline for existing patients.

However, we have obtained a report released in March 2015 by Healthwatch Norfolk, which slams the quality of crisis support. It is believed their findings were one of the reasons Mind were commissioned to set up the helpline.

The report says: “The crisis line is unsatisfactory, regarding how long it takes to get a response, the support that can be accessed and the manner in which service users are treated. The frequent complaint was that people going through a crisis were offered banal and patronising advice such as ‘make a cup of tea’ or ‘do some ironing’.

“One recurring complaint from service users was that they ring up the crisis line when they are feeling ill and often out of control, and they are told to distract themselves by having a cigarette, going for a walk, doing the ironing, doing the housework, walking the dog [the person didn’t have a dog], having a bath, having a cup of tea and so on.

“People felt that these comments were patronising and belittled their situation. There was a general level of unhappiness with the services people had received.”

It added that some comments suggest people had received responses which varied from the uncaring to the concerning.

One respondent said: “The crisis line is the biggest problem.

“When I rang, the person said ‘I can’t sleep either, I’m working’.”

Another added: “I was sent to the access and assessment team, I was sent to reception for a number for a crisis line but it wasn’t operating.”

Our WeMind campaign was launched last week in response to the news the helpline run by the Norwich and Central Norfolk branch of Mind was to have its funding stopped at the end of next month. This is despite the fact it takes 800 calls a month and has been proved to save lives.

The line costs just £120,000 a year to run, but neither of Norfolk’s four Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) or the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) are prepared to stump up the cash.

However, today Mid Norfolk MP and health minister George Freeman described the service as “vital” and said the government expected the CCGs to give it their support.

He said: “For too long mental health has been the Cinderella of healthcare: under discussed and underfunded.

“That’s why the prime minister has committed us to parity of care between physical and mental health and announced the extra £400m for crisis teams.

“Local service design is rightly a matter for the local NHS: but this helpline is obviously a vital service which the government expects the CCGs to support. I have raised this with the Mental Health Minister and will be raising with the local NHS.”

News of the threat to the service broke last Monday, on the same day David Cameron pledged an extra £1bn for services.

He said at the time: “The task force has set out how we can work towards putting mental and physical health care on an equal footing and I am committed to making sure that happens.

“This means that if you are struggling with a mental health condition you will get the help and support you need.”

But Heather Edmondson, from Litcham, who uses the helpline, said Mr Cameron’s words meant nothing unless they were put into practice locally.

She said: “If Mr Cameron cares that much he should put his money where his mouth is and make sure this service is not scrapped, otherwise it’s just empty words.

“Having the Mind line out of hours and at weekends means everything to me and all the service users. They are well trained, compassionate and have a great deal of knowledge of mental illness.

“There is nothing else in place that comes close to the expertise of the staff at Mind. If this is allowed to happen I fear there will be more unnecessary deaths. I can’t even bear to think of how I will cope without the line.”

The line operates from 2pm to midnight during the week and 24 hours a day at the weekend for those already receiving support from the NSFT. It was initially funded until last summer by four Norfolk CCGs, but when they declined to carry that on the NSFT agreed to foot the bill for another six months.

So far more than 1,500 people have signed the change.org petition, which can be accessed via our website.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Mental health is a priority for the government.

“Our plan includes making sure 24-hour support, such as helplines, are available in every part of the country. Whilst it is right that local doctors make decisions about the services needed in their communities, we will work with CCGs in Norfolk and across the country to make sure this plan for 24/7 crisis care is delivered.”

•Sign the petition to save the helpline here

Have you used the service and want to back our campaign? Email David Powles at david.powles@archant.co.uk

Opinion from Investigations Unit editor David Powles

It feels as though this should be the simplest of problems to solve.

A charity service, proved to save lives and proved to be required, needs £120,000 a year so it can carry on its work.

At the same time our prime minister proclaims a turning point for mental health provision, declaring that absolutely everyone will get the support they need.

So why, then, are we in this situation where the helpline will stop at the end of next month?

It seems no one wants to pick up the ball – or the bill. The saddest element of this has been the sense that it’s more an argument about which public organisation continues to pay for it, rather than what is right for patients.

Perhaps those behind this decision should speak to the many people who have phoned or emailed our newsroom in the past few days to speak of their complete and utter devastation over the loss of the service.

Most of them say it saved their lives, all of them say that what was offered before (and will presumably be offered after) is not fit for purpose. Throughout the last few months of our Mental Health Watch campaign, numerous sufferers have told how they often feel ignored and uncared for.

Is it any wonder when you consider this sorry saga?

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