In just one of many controversies around NHS reform so called 'mental health clustering' is being rolled out across the NHS in what appears to be a bid to save money on mental health care.
The new system will see people being graded according to need, which in itself is not a bad thing, the shock comes with each 'tier' of services a service user will be allocated new staff, halting the continuity of care. To mental health patients, this continuity they have at present means a lot of them can help stabilise chaotic behaviour and lifestyle and instils a certain trust between a service user and the service itself, essential when working and dealing with mental health care.
As an ex-service user I can appreciate just how much it means to have the same person, who knows you, your case and that you can trust at a time when you are vulnerable. This move to a service which bounces you from team to team dependant on risk in my opinion is nothing short of damaging to the very people the services are designed to protect and take care of.
For 12 months I had one support worker as my main point of contact who would spend time with me, take me for coffee and help me and support me with the things I needed at the time, the continuity of having someone who would take my calls and help me with the silly things meant I felt really supported, which really helped me come on leaps and bounds in restoring order to what was a chaotic time for me. Unfortunately, she was a student and as a result moved on, during this time it was decided I didn't need the intensive support that I was having at the time and I was moved onto a new team, a new support worker and found that no-one was answering my calls, nobody was there to support me and because I got so used to it, it felt like every positive support network I had built up had been ripped out from underneath me.
Following intensive support the withdrawal of it needs to be gradual, while a patient learns to adapt to the changes and develop the necessary coping skills to deal with it. This is made so much harder when they very people you have trusted with your care have disappeared, no longer available to talk to because your just not sick enough for them.
This kind of experience has unfortunately always been common in mental health care, but will only become everyday practice if the NHS goes ahead with their new system of grading and prioritising mental health care. The idea is essentially to get people back into the care of their GP's as soon as possible, which I am all for, but not when it comes to compromising care that to do properly takes time to achieve a positive result. It is traditionally an underfunded area of healthcare, with the least investment over physical illness, yet one in three of us will need support for mental health issues at some point in our lives. Yet again mental health is put at the bottom of the agenda, despite promises from the current government to increase access to psychological therapies, which is fine for low-level disorders, with a lot of the resources for this being diverted from acute care.
It is yet another sign that mental health is again being neglected and under prioritised, I can think of countless units that have been closed in the last 12 months, with patients going to other units not as well equipped and without the specialists available to maximise a positive outcome, yet we sit here and take it, because as a society we still largely see mental illness as the pariah, if someone is acting 'crazy' we cross the street, avoid the problem because the unknown is a little bit scary to deal with.
The NHS will undoubtedly go ahead with their plans and will likely see more readmissions, more people using crisis teams as a means of emergency support and in turn will simply place a drain on the resources designed for emergencies, which would remain exactly that if the people at the top left the clinical side of the NHS well alone, stick to managing the bank account and not meddling in patients' lives.