Mental Health Care ‘Failing NHS Patients’

A psychiatric nurse has quit the NHS after a two-year battle against mountains of paperwork and a desperate shortage of doctors and nurses in west Berkshire. And 37-year-old Lavinia Dowling paints a bleak picture of the “drastic” treatment of mental health patients in the area under the NHS. Just weeks after The Healthcare Com-mission accused the NHS of cutting back on psychiatric services she says the Berkshire system is undermanned and underfunded.

The Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust admitted during the summer that it has been forced to cut back on psychiatric social workers who should be supporting patients in their own homes.

Ms Dowling resigned as a primary care link worker for Berkshire in August when she was working alongside eight GPs to assess and offer advice to mental health patients. She says there are not enough doctors and nurses in the system and added: “We covered the whole of Berkshire which was too huge an area and I was struggling to see all the patients.

“I was also being asked to do more admin work to show what I was doing,because you have to prove where the money is going all the time. And it is terribly frustrating when you have to tell your patients that a psycholo-gist or therapist can’t see them because their lists are full, and all I could offer them was me. Psychiatric nurses are being run down because they are not regarded as a good investment.

“And patients are being prescribed anti-depressants instead of proper treatment because GPs only have 10 minutes for a patient and have to make a snap decision. They don’t have time to start talking about therapy and some doctors don’t have mental health as their specialist interest.”

Ms Dowling is now providing private treatment in clinics in Southampton, Newbury, Salisbury and Portsmouth. She blames the undermanning on NHS cash problems,adding: “The NHS is always going to be strangled by a lack of money.

“They keep on considering a new treatment that they should be doing and are forced to argue which is their priority. But services have started going down in quality and going up in quantity.”

The World Federation for Mental Health recently organised an international mental health day in a bid to remove the stigmas attached to mental illness,promote better care and reduce risks of suicide.

And Ms Dowling says only now,free of the NHS, is she able to work to help the mentally ill shed their shame and aid their recovery.

A Reading mental health patient named Philip said: “There are not enough resources within the community and we really have a crisis in care because funding is minimal. Mental health care needs to have the same priority as general health care and just as much funding. It is just as important as general health care but it is still seen as the hidden illness. When someone with mental health problems cries out for help in the night we deserve to have someone answer, just like the person who is physically ill.”

He added: “It upsets us to say that we have it. But there needs to be more positivity so people can even get over it or learn to live with it. It has got too negative.”

Berkshire West Primary Care Trust spokeswoman Toni Lock said: “We have a contract with the Berkshire Healthcare Trust worth £71 million. The Healthcare Trust received a chunk of new investment in 2005-06 and the PCT has encouraged the Healthcare Trust to invest money in developing community services such as early intervention and community emergency services. As a proportion of our total PCT spending, we invest more in mental health services than the national average”.