Friday, 29 November 2013


I know from my direct work with people with mental ill health over the years how services have not really ever met demand. A resource issue of course. The savage cuts our Mental Health services are facing started with the idea of a 'merger' several years ago. The idea was to share services and save money. I am not against this, but what was missing then and is missing now is listening to users, their families and carers and a whole host of other agencies. What is also missing now are the words 'Mental Health' from the title of the organisation itself, which I find quite shocking. I am in no doubt that we are allowing the most vulnerable to fall through the cracks. I believe we are undermining the amazing professionals who work in our mental health services. There is a vital role for the voluntary and community sector in this area of work. It should though be supplementary and complimentary. It should not be instead of.This is why with colleagues I decided to write this open letter.

Re: Patients and staff put at risk in Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health Trust

There is a growing concern in each of our respective constituencies that mental health care services across Norfolk and Suffolk have reached melting point.

Recent experience has shown the tragic consequences that can occur when senior health managers place too much emphasis on meeting financial targets (set out by Monitor - the NHS Financial regulator). All to often it is at the expense of patient care.

Many Trust staff feel there are now, as a consequence of the 20% budget reduction imposed by the government, unacceptable risks playing out in the region's mental health services.

We enclose quotes from from some of the mental health workers who have brought these matters to our attention.

1. "I've been a mental health nurse at the Trust for 15 years.  In that time I've never felt as concerned for my patients and the lack of care I can provide for them. What the Trust says about our ability to provide safe care for patients in the face of these cuts, and the reality on the ground is a nonsense."

2. "On a regular basis I've seen people with genuine needs turned away only to return when they are in crisis. The impact this has on them, their treatment and their families is appalling.It's heart-breaking for me and my colleagues to see people and know they'll not get the help they need. We live in fear there will be a death that we could have prevented were it not for the recent cuts. People need to realise that Trust staff have been papering over the cracks for years by going the extra mile. But there are now so few of us, with so few resources, that's no longer possible.  I'm terrified that when things inevitably go wrong, me and my colleagues will be scapegoated for doing our best in the circumstances we have been forced in to."

3. "I'm concerned that at some point the public will be endangered too. It really does feel like nothing more than a matter of time."
For months now mental health staff have warned the cuts to the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust would have devastating consequences.

The Coalition Government's 20% funding cut over 4 years has translated into 400 nurses, social workers, psychologists, support workers and occupational therapist posts being axed.

New figures show that 38 serious incidents have been reported to the foundation trust in the five months since April. Of this figure 20 related to the deaths of patients who had used the Trust's services in the past 6 months. We have been informed this number continues to rise.

Staff at the Trust report living in fear of being scapegoated and disciplined as a result of system failures that they themselves have been warning about for the past 18 months. Staff tell us the internal whistle blowing systems and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) does not leave them feeling that they will be adequately protected.

They also tell us it is increasingly difficult to make clinical decisions based on need and the best interests of patients when resources and funding are so scarce.

This is on top of a moratorium on new staff, plus very limited cover for maternity or long term sickness leave, when demand for these services is increasing.

It's high time the politicians responsible for these cuts - politicians like Norman Lamb MP, Simon Wright MP, Chloe Smith MP, Therese Coffey MP, Norman Lamb MP, Richard Bacon MP and Tim Yeo MP - explained their actions to the public. Coalition politicians tell you the NHS hasn't been cut and is safe in their hands but when you ask staff at the sharp end they will tell you a different story.

We call on the Coalition government to reverse the cuts. For too long Norman Lamb, the Care Minister responsible for these cuts, has been allowed to pass the blame onto the Trust staff.

It is he and his fellow Coalition MPs making the cuts and it's they who should ultimately hang their heads in shame.


Clive Lewis - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - Norwich South
Jess Asato - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - Norwich North
Bob Blizzard - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - Waveney
Denise Burke - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - North Norfolk
Deborah Sacks - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - South Norfolk
Jane Basham - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - South Suffolk
Russell Whiting - Labour Parliamentary Candidate - Suffolk Costal

Hard to imagine

Imagine if you can living a life running away from care homes and foster carers; of developing a drug addiction; not finishing school and ending up serving a short prison sentence. Imagine on your release your absolute determination not to go back. Imagine all this and only just turned 18. This means you are in charge of your own destiny now.

Then what might happen is that you end up in a hostel with a series of agencies dipping in and out offering 'support' . Support from amazing people wanting to do their best but with restrictions and huge workloads. Support that seems to diminish every week. 

Imagine you find your Income Support is stopped because you have dropped out of your college course. You couldn't attend though because you were in prison. No one from college has kept in touch and seems interested in finding out if you might want to go back. You don’t really know if there was any liaison with them when you were in prison. 

The computer generated letter (stopping your Income Support) doesn't know that you have no food; no deodorant; no soap powder. The letter does not see or care about your desperation not to go back to prison. Doesn't see you pacing up and down dealing with the reality that your only experience of getting money in the past is through robbing.
Then you have to be grateful. You are desperate to find work. So while the computer generates your Job Seekers Allowance application you have no option but to wait.

 A supporter gets you a food parcel. You are humiliated and grateful but the parcel contains food items that are alien to you. Then another supporter gets you a small grant. £20 a week. You have to be accompanied to the shops to spend this as receipts are becoming increasingly vital for charities to evidence their spending. You, having lived a chaotic life might not remember to get the receipt. You might be tempted to buy something frivolous like a small gift for your girlfriend's birthday. You understand this but you feel like a child.

You sign up enthusiastically to the Universal Job Match scheme, having been reminded by your supporter that it is voluntary. Lack of access to the internet is a real barrier but you think there are places you can do it from. You are realistic about your career options. No care work or retail jobs for you with your criminal record. The jobs you might do though seem to require internet access or ability to travel. You have neither. 

You struggle with the system and with building structure into your life but don't want to keep asking for help. You fail to fulfil all the job search requirements and your benefit gets suspended pending a decision to sanction you. Just like that. No call to a meeting to discuss how you are coping with this new world. No training on the system to make sure you understand it. You cannot appeal until a decision has been made to sanction you. You have no money. The computer generated letter does not care about this.

Once again you are reliant on others. An application for another food parcel and for another emergency grant. None of these come from our social security system that is supposed to support you and help you get on your own two feet. No. Support that comes from wonderful volunteers and local people's generosity. Are you happy being reliant on charity you ask yourself. It's confusing.

You sit anxiously while your supporter gets in touch with Head Office, because all you can think of is how hungry you are. Based on their advice you head back to the Job Centre to get a form to apply for a hardship grant. You are sent away and told you cannot just fill in a form but you need to see your adviser. You haven't got a named adviser, but didn't feel confident to tell them.  You walked away. 

Your supporter listens as you swear and pace. They make a further two calls to a central number on your behalf. They seem to understand what is happening and they offer to go back to the Job Centre with you. It seems your Job Centre deals with hardship paperwork differently. It is so confusing.

It embarrasses you that you need a supporter with you. You watch on as they are treated differently to you. For a moment you think they too will be sent away, but they seem more certain and get you an appointment. You have to wait four days though. You have no money. 

Your supporter is impressed with your ability to recite your National Insurance number. That number is more important to you to remember than your name.

This is the reality of a system that is broken. One that lets down vulnerable young people every day. Maybe I am imagining things though. We are talking about people not numbers..right? Imagine that.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A man at the door

location map -- click to enlarge
Yesterday we saw a legal judgement that seems to allow for discrimination against disabled people. The challenge to a Government policy lodged by Leigh Day on behalf of some of those made most vulnerable by societal attitudes towards their disability was not upheld by our courts. I would encourage all of you to review the annex of the legal judgement and ask if you are not just a little ashamed of our justice system today. The media reporting of the case failed to report comments made by the Judge that the current situation was unsatisfactory and needed remedying. Of course I am talking about the Bedroom Tax.

In Cornard in Suffolk during the County Council election campaign I knocked on a door and a man, lets call him John, called out for me to wait a moment and he would get there. On opening the door John appeared anxious and apologised for keeping me waiting. He explained to me that his wife had just had an epileptic fit - his words. He seemed keen to talk and told me how her epilepsy was acute and he had given up work to care for her. Their only son was in his first year at University, and he felt guilty because he could not be as pleased about this as he should have been. He spoke about how his 3 bedroom house, of a modest size, was now deemed to have too many bedrooms for them by the Council. He said he could not afford the extra costs and they were being forced to downsize.
 Rent Book Assured Pink 100080014

He told me he would often sleep in a separate room to his wife because of her ill health and that the 'spare room' didn't feel like a luxury. He missed being able to work he said and in saying that he told me he felt guilty because his wife needed him. During the conversation his wife came to the door. She looked quite ill to me - a non medical lay person. She appeared very confused and the tenderness and care between them was evident. He led her gently away and then returned to the door. He talked about how they had lived in their house for many years, about the support of the neighbours and the sense of community that existed there and how he worried about the impact on his wife of moving from such familiar surroundings.

I offered to take some more details and to see if I could get someone to help with advice. He stood tall and thanked me and said if he needed help he would seek it and do the right thing by his family. He said it was the first time a politician had taken the time to talk with him and thanked me for my time - when really I should have been thanking him for giving me the facts on the human impact of the bedroom tax.

Perhaps he should not worry. Aragon Housing Association reports on the first 100 days of the implementation of the Bedroom Tax and identifies that out of 460 houses with spare bedrooms they were able to move only 40 to smaller properties. For those affected however tenants build up rent arrears regardless. Can you imagine building up rent arrears and the impact of debt on people like John and his wife, living a very modest lifestyle? Arrears they know they are unlikely to be able to pay back?

I know the legal judgement will be appealed by Leigh Day and I know a Labour Government will repeal the policy. Is that enough for now for people like John and the many more in his position? I don't think so.

At a local level we must continue to raise awareness of the lives of local people affected by cruel knee jerk populist policies. We can do this through real conversations  with individuals and community groups and commit to doing something about it. This can include ensuring those with the power, data and knowledge about the impact of the policies at local level share this information freely. That local and national political leaders are held to account based on it.

We must build a much broader understanding of why the system of social security , not charity introduced under Clement Attlee, is vital for a civilised society to function effectively and fairly. A system that gives men like John some dignity and the support and security to enable him to stand on his own two feet.

Clement Attlee.png

Friday, 10 May 2013


I was dismayed to read your important lead article by Matt Stott ‘Outrage as rapists taken off offenders register’ very quickly turn into party political posturing and fear mongering about the European Courts of Human Rights by our Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore.

The issue of sex offenders being taken off the register is a real concern to me and many of your readers. Critically though this EU Court ruling does not take away the existing review structures already in place by the police and other agencies to keep dangerous offenders on the register. This is the point made by Detective Superintendent Alan Caton. The importance of which was reiterated by Cath Elliot from Suffolk Rape Crisis who asked how it is decided that sex offenders are no longer a danger. The EU Court ruling essentially said that a blanket ‘life time’ on the register with no opportunity to request a review by offenders breaches their Human Rights. This is no ‘opening of the floodgates’

Mr Passmore refers to the ‘higher power’ of the EU Court implying that it dictates to the UK. In fact the Supreme Court interprets the law and it is up to our Parliament to decide how to proceed with that interpretation. Mr Passmore refers to the UK as a ‘sovereign nation’ The UK exercised its ‘sovereignty’ sixty years ago by becoming party to the European Convention on Human Rights and deciding that rulings from the court would be respected by UK governments.

 Mr Passmore asserts that the EU Courts are unelected and unaccountable which is simply not true. In fact the United Kingdom nominates its own candidate, has 18 seats on the Parliamentary Assembly and our own elected MPs vote on which judges to appoint. This is more power than they have to elect domestic judges and some people believe we could take advice from the EU courts on how to make our own justice system more democratic and accountable.

It is concerning that leading political figures; and by default, the organisations they lead; do not see the damage they do by distancing themselves from the principles of upholding human rights. In doing this they are responsible for the further erosion of public trust and confidence in human rights.

 Were Mr Passmore’s comments motivated by the Conservative Party losses in the local County Council elections last week in the face of growing  ‘anti Europe’ sentiment? If so in my opinion there should be no place here for these types of politics for they serve no useful purpose for our police service or the people of Suffolk.