A Black Day For Cambridgeshire Mental Health Services

The axe has fallen on mental health services in Cambridgeshire after Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt chose to back £3 million cuts. Her decision has been blasted by councillors and campaigners who have opposed the savage cutbacks proposed by Cambridge City and South Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trusts – but to no avail. After months of deliberation, Mrs Hewitt finally handed down her decision and announced the Government will let the reductions to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership Trust’s services go ahead.

In her reply to Cambridgeshire County Council’s letters expressing concern at the cuts, she said: “My view is that the PCTs and the (mental health) trust should proceed with the proposals.”

Coun Geoffrey Heathcock, chairman of the county council’s health and adult social care scrutiny committee, called it a “black day” for mental health service users. And he condemned the time taken to reach the decision and the Government’s reluctance to intervene.

He said: “I am appalled though not surprised that the Secretary of State is so indifferent both by the time she has taken to reply and what her reply consists of. Mental health services for the vulnerable in our local community for young and the elderly will now have significant cuts made to them. It is a very black day both for the users of this service but also local opinion and democracy.”

The committee originally wrote to Patricia Hewitt in February to refer the service reductions put forward by the PCTs. The full county council backed the call in a second letter in July.

The letters raised concern about proposals to cut nearly £3 million from the mental health services budget – savings included cutting the Young People’s Service (YPS), closing wards at Fulbourn and Addenbrooke’s hospitals and day centre services, amalgamation of teams providing care and support and more reliance on community-based provision.

But in her letter, Mrs Hewitt has decided the cuts should go ahead. Among the reasons she listed were:

■ The PCT proposals are consistent with the Mental Health National Service Framework.

■ She supported the points set out in the detailed PCT rebuttal document.

■ The Strategic Health Authority supports the PCT proposals.

■ An independent report by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health supported the PCT proposals.

■ Changes have already been partly implemented with no significant identified or reported adverse impacts on access to community services or increase to the number of out of area placements.

Coun Lister Wilson, Conservative health spokesman on the county council, said he had misgivings about the cuts and highlighted the detrimental effect this would have on carers. He also criticised the minister’s tardy response. He said: “I’m assured the delay in the Secretary of State’s response is absolutely unprecedented. I do feel that it is an act of cowardice not to have responded straight away. We have been badly served by the Secretary of State.”

Lin Macpherson, from Milton, who has suffered from severe mental health problems for more than 30 years and has spent long periods in hospital, called Mrs Hewitt’s decision “atrocious”. The 51-year-old mother-of-two said: “My immediate thought is how much does she know about what is going on here. As I’ve cited before, this is going to cost lives. You cannot run a skeleton service without affecting patient care.”

The PCT boards decided the YPS should cease to operate by this autumn at the latest, with the therapeutic community and outpatient service closing to save £170,000 a year.

Dr Shankarnarayan Srinath, a consultant psychiatrist in psychotherapy at the YPS, said: “It is very disappointing. We had hoped people would see our argument. It is a very important service for Cambridge. Nationally the percentage of 16 to 25-year-olds in the population is 11 per cent. In Cambridge it is 26 per cent, two-anda- half times as high.

“Cambridge attracts young people, this is a very good service and the young people of Cambridge deserve a good service.”

He said a charity was being set up to try and raise the money needed to keep the YPS and its expertise together. He said: “We have raised about £40,000 so far. It has been very encouraging for us. We are urging companies, colleges, charitable trusts and the public to help.”

Karen Bell, chief executive at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Trust said: “We are very pleased since the referral the Primary Care Trusts have fully funded the new crisis resolution and home treatment service which means we are able to recruit additional staff and this will take significant pressure off the Cambridgeshire system.”

Cambridge MP David Howarth said: “I am horrified by this decision. It will cause serious problems for some of the most vulnerable people in Cambridge and the surrounding area. I shall be writing to Mrs Hewitt asking her to think again.”