Labour candidate for Holywell, Nadine Bely-Summers, laments the Tory government’s neglect of mental health services and its impact on Oxford residents.
Eight years of relentlessly pursuing austerity has pushed mental health services to the point of crisis. This Tory government has presided over £150 million of cuts to mental health budgets in the last four years alone. Parity of esteem between mental health and physical health has become a buzzword but no action has followed yet.
The Prime Minister herself has been forced to apologise to the nation for the mounting crisis in the NHS.
Although vital services are under threat, it seems that no attention or compassion is being extended to the most vulnerable in our society who have seen their safety net taken from underneath their feet at their time of utmost need.
A recent article in the Oxford Mail highlights that a catalogue of serious failings in mental health care were identified in the health ombudsman report. A mental health patient with a complex history of mental health problems, including bipolar disorder, was discharged from a community treatment team having missed an appointment. They died shortly afterwards from a drug overdose. Another case is that of a woman who was left in seclusion after suffering an acute mental health crisis with no access to sanitary products. The woman had no option but to collect her menstrual blood in a plastic cup.
The report identifies that lack of staff compromises patient care and safety. This comes as no surprise to patients, carers, and mental health professionals like myself.
Oxford faces very specific issues in relation to recruitment and retention of health care staff. The cost of housing is very high. A 2017 study listed Oxford as the least affordable city in the UK, the average house price being 10.7 times that of average earnings. Another issue is the impact Brexit might have on the workforce. There is a high proportion of NHS workers from EU countries working in Oxfordshire. According to the House of Commons library, the number has risen to 11% in the past four years compared to a national average of 4.6%.
The Oxfordshire Unison health branch has confirmed that mental health trusts have less money to spend on patient care than they did five years ago. This contradicts the government’s claim that mental health funding is at record levels. Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (OCCG) funding of secondary mental health services is amongst the lowest in the country.
Funding for mental health has decreased at a time when demand for the services has increased massively. People, particularly the young, are beset by mental health problems on an unprecedented scale. The number of students in top universities, such as Oxford, who disclosed a mental health problem in their first year have risen sharply. There is now more pressure from students and their families who wants to see drop-in centres in all universities where students can get access to help from trained mental health professionals.
In Oxford, psychiatric beds are now often at 100 percent occupancy, meaning patients might end up being treated hundreds of miles from home. Some patients are discharged too quickly from community teams. There is a long waiting list for specialised services. Psychology and psychotherapy services have momentarily closed in order to address their huge waiting list.
Funding is now diverted to Improving Access to Psychological Therapists (IAPT) services who see people with common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and where large numbers of people can be seen, treated and discharged quickly.
In my IAPT service, therapists are pushed into seeing patients for less than the number of sessions required by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists, largely in order to meet unrealistic service targets. There are now high levels of burnout across NHS mental health services as the norm is now to hit performance targets rather than provide care.
If elected as Labour candidate for Holywell, I will continue to campaign to protect mental health services. I will continue to oppose austerity and budget cuts. A Labour government will properly fund the NHS and make it fit for purposes once again.