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.