NHS chiefs fail to show up to meeting to save Norfolk’s mental health helpline

Sue Crossman of West Norfolk CCG (l) and Jo Smithson from Norwich CCG (r) both enjoyed pay rises of

Sue Crossman of West Norfolk CCG (l) and Jo Smithson from Norwich CCG (r) both enjoyed pay rises of £5,000 last year as part of £155,000 in pay rises for top CCG staff. But they say they can't find £120,000 to save Norfolk's mental health phoneline. - Credit: Archant

Health bosses have been labelled as 'shameful' for failing to attend a meeting about an under-threat mental health helpline.

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

Mind support line. Ben Marshall, team leader. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

More than 20 people met in Norwich yesterday to discuss the future of the service which is operated by Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind.

It supports thousands of people in a mental health crisis, but is due to close at the end of this month due to its funding being stopped.

Among those present at the meeting were service users, carers and representatives from the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).

But noticeably absent was anyone from Norfolk's four clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that could save the service.

Kevin James, a service user governor for NSFT who co-ordinated the meeting, said each one of the county's CCGs was notified about the event.

He said: 'I think the fact that the trust is here today, Mind is here today, service users, carers and staff are here, but the commissioners aren't is shameful. They knew about it because I made contact with them over two weeks ago. They are not here and I think that speaks volumes.'

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Around £120,000 is needed to fund the helpline for the next 12 months.

But it was noted during the meeting that many of the questions on how to obtain that funding could not be answered because representatives from Norfolk's CCGs were not present.

Last year, the NSFT agreed to provide funding to keep the service operating until the end of this month.

However, Marcus Hayward, the trust's locality operations manager, said it would not be able to do the same this year.

He explained: 'In terms of what £120,000 would mean for the trust, that would fund three mental health practitioners, with a case load of 20 to 30 people. We already have case loads higher than our available capacity, and so we have not got any room to further remove that resource without impacting on those people who need secondary health services.'

Mr Hayward said the trust also had to make savings of £10m.

He added that if Mind could gather data showing how its service was reducing acute mental health hospital admissions, money from the CCGs would follow.

But the charity's chief executive, Amanda Hedley, said: 'If commissioners are now saying [to NSFT] that the reason they are not prepared to commission it is because we have not provided enough evidence to justify it continuing, then I think that is really disappointing.

'Because if they wanted us to do that, they should have made that clear at the start – not now use that as an excuse not to continue funding it.' Around 7,000 people have so far backed our campaign through the online change.org petition to save the service. Many more have used #WeMind on Twitter.

In spite of this, the CCGs concerned, namely Norwich, South, West and North Norfolk have so far refused to budge.

Louise Nightingale, 32, from Wymondham, was one of a handful of service members present.

She said: 'I just think if people with really severe mental health problems can turn up, then why can't they [the CCGs]?

'I don't even live in Norwich and I managed to get here. This service is vital to us, and it just infuriates me.'

Sam Clifford, 49, of Norwich, added: 'The idea of not being able have this support line that has saved my life on numerous occasions is just shocking.'

Norfolk's CCGs did not respond to a request for a comment.

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