‘Cinderella’ Service That Is Crying Out For A Prince To Rescue It

Mental health is always the bottom of the heap. Campaigners call it the Cinderella service, but that underestimates the problems. No prince has come and no rescue is in sight. The Government has been promising a new mental health Act since it was elected. But every draft so far has mobilised the mental health charities into concerted opposition. What they want is better treatment, more equitably provided. What the Government appears to want is the right to lock up people with personality disorders in the manner that it held terrorist suspects after 9/11.

Nearly 40 years ago a committee chaired by Geoffrey Howe investigated claims of abuse at Ely Hospital in Cardiff. It was the first in a long series of similar investigations and, like most of the others, it found the allegations proved.

Last week it was the turn of Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, found by an inquiry to have abused patients for many years, while board members turned a blind eye. The Healthcare Commission hinted at suspicions that abuse was happening elsewhere. Everybody expressed disgust. Loud was the tutting and long the lamentations. But we have heard them before, and I would lay odds that we will hear them again.

Providing mental health services is one of the toughest jobs in the NHS, demanding high professional skills, but also the kind of caring that is today in short supply. When money runs short, it is the mental health trusts that feel the pinch.

Repeated accusations by the Tories that the present economy measures are falling hardest on mental health provision have been rebutted by the Government, but the mental health charity Rethink disagrees. It reported in May on £30 million of cuts in mental health services in England.

Sometimes the Government gives with one hand and takes with the other. It is committed to an expansion of “talking therapies” to reduce dependence on drugs for the depressed, but cuts in training places for therapists and long waits for cognitive behavioural therapy give the lie to the promises.

The undertaking in 2003 to provide a comprehensive child and adolescent mental health service is another casualty. Money for this initiative was not ring-fenced and has dribbled away. Meanwhile, the confusion over residential care continues. Care in the community has betrayed many who need in-patient care, as well as diverting resources.

Much of the confusion in Cornwall arose from the perception by staff that the mentally handicapped needed locking up for their own protection. But they were supposed to be in care, not in custody. It is easy to sympathise with the staff, for their confusion is shared by society generally.

The mentally ill and the mentally handicapped deserve better. They always did and, I fear, they always will.