The Independent London Newspaper
19th August 2017

NEW JOURNAL COMMENT: Victims of mental health cuts can be seen on our streets

    Town Hall

    An investigation into Camden’s mental health services was ordered by the Town Hall 

    Published: 22 July, 2016

    THE new mental health panel starting next week will no doubt broaden the public debate over what has always been considered the Cinderella service of the NHS. 

    When push comes to shove, its funding is always the first to be axed. In 2011, during the first of the government’s austerity-driven economies, community outreach teams were cut, 100 beds for inpatients were shut down and two hospital buildings sold off. 

    The effect was that some of the most severely ill people in the borough were routinely moved out to treatment centres in distant towns such as Southend or Northampton. 

    Demand for beds in Camden has soared in recent years, leaving managers with no option but to rent beds from private sector hospitals in the capital. The hugely inflated cost creates an obvious and completely avoidable false economy.

    The role of families is often forgotten in the mental health debate. Many are thrust into roles as unpaid carers, working round the clock at home, or making soul-destroying journeys across the country to bring a bit of hope to their unwell loved ones. 

    The over-reliance on strong anti-psychotic medication in secure units has long been a cause of concern and the long-term impact of this approach to treatment may not yet be fully known. 

    But, of course, the real tragedy of the cuts has been on the people themselves. Pressure on beds means many have to wait for the worst to happen before the NHS Trust can justify an admission. Those who might have felt a need for treatment, or at the very least assessment, in the early stages of mania, are now left to wait – often until it is too late. 

    There are lasting psychological consequences to a manic outburst, a physical attack or some form of self harm. Left untreated, delusions become fixed and entrenched. Some may become so unwell that they cannot leave their homes and deteriorate into the squalor of severe self-neglect and social isolation. Take a walk around Camden Town and you will see others who have ventured out; wild and whirling, crying out in anger, sadness and loss.

    Senior politicians in government may make all the right noises. The new prime minister, Theresa May, promised increased investment in her maiden speech. The reality is the NHS is being starved into a slow death. 

    Let’s hope the new panel can get to grips with problems here and, rather than simply hang the mental health authority out to dry, come up with some innovation.