Norfolk mental health support line which gets 1,000 calls a month told funding will stop
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016
A vital Norwich helpline which supports thousands of people in a mental health crisis has been told its funding is to be stopped.
Almost 1,000 phone calls a month are made to the line, which is run by the Norwich and Central Norfolk branch of Mind and designed to be available when other services are not.
However, staff and users of the line were last night reeling at being told it is not to receive funding beyond March 31, 2016. Service user Louise Nightingale described the news as 'heartbreaking'.
The announcement came on the same day the government put forward a five-year plan for mental health care, pledging £1bn to try and ensure the standard of service is the same people receive for physical health problems.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, a campaigner for mental health services, described the latest development as 'unacceptable' and said the human cost of the loss of the line would be 'incalculable'.
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It is the second time in a year the service, which operates from 2pm to midnight in the week and 24 hours a day at the weekend, has been put at risk.
It nearly closed in 2015 when Norfolk's clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) declined to continue to provide funds for it. The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) stepped in to provide the cash to take it into the new year.
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However, it is understood trust chief executive Michael Scott confirmed to the charity yesterday there was no more money available.
Amanda Hedley, CEO of Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind, said they were 'extremely disappointed' the £10,000 needed per month to find the service could not be found.
She added: 'It seems ironic that on the day of the publication of the five-year national plan for mental health and additional funding we have been informed of this local decision. We will be trying to support the people that rely on our helpline as much as we can but it will have to close at the end of March when the funding ceases.'
Mr Lamb added: 'How horribly ironic that this comes on the day we are told about a commitment to address the inequality suffered by people with mental health.
'This is unacceptable and it needs to be challenged. The human cost of this is incalculable and I want to know how they are going to make sure the support is there for people who currently rely on the service?'
Mr Lamb was critical of Norfolk's CCGs, claiming he felt they had initially scrapped funding without properly evaluating the decision and calling for them to provide the funding again.
Mr Scott said: 'Funding other organisations to provide mental health services is not the role of our trust; that is the role of the organisations who hold the budgets for local health services, and who decide which services to pay for. This includes the CCGs, among others.
'In July last year, in an unusual step and as a short-term emergency offer of help, our trust decided to fund the MIND Helpline for the remainder of the 2015-16 financial year.
'However, we made it very clear at the time that we would not guarantee continued emergency funding past the end of March this year, and that our move was to allow all parties – primarily MIND and the local commissioners – time to look for a long-term solution towards funding the MIND Helpline.'
He said that since that time the trust had invested into its expanding its own community services, increasing local inpatient beds, as well as launching with its partners, including MIND, the Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney service, which has its own out-of-hours patient helpline.
He added: 'We are all facing a very difficult economic climate within the NHS and within mental health services in particular. We are doing all we can to invest in ensuring services are more accessible for local people.
'But we do not hold the commissioning budgets.'
A spokesman for South, West, North Norfolk and Norwich CCGs said: 'The helpline was originally set up using short term national funding. It's aim was to ease pressure on NHS services during the difficult winter of early 2015. This funding was always going to expire.
'The CCGs continue to fund NSFT to provide services that support people in crisis in Norfolk.'
We profiled the service in January during a three-day special on the work of Mind and at the time service manager Jason Moores said he was confident extra funds would be sourced.
The number is available free-of-charge to anyone over 18 and who has received treatment from NSFT in the past year. Louise Nightingale, 32, from Wymondham, told how the service's staff had saved her by staying on the phone for five hours and talking her out of an overdose.
She said today: 'I would be heartbroken if they were to close down because they helped to keep going and helped me to find the strength, which they say I already have, but they helped me access that. They're life savers.
'They've had a huge impact. They're amazing to me, the amount of progress that I've made with their help and support has been immense.'
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