By Valerie Prechner
Much controversy has been caused in recent months by the Coalition’s plans to dismantle and privatise huge portions of the National Health Service. Health professionals and the public have expressed outrage that this beloved service is facing its greatest threat ever from the Health and Social Welfare Bill. And yet, there is an area of the NHS which have been consistently ignored and underfunded by successive governments, and is now silently being cut back even further: our mental health services.
The reason why these particular cuts have not caused the same outcry as other changed to the health system is that, even now in the 21st Century, mental health problems carry a stigma which is difficult to break down. In many cases, people with mental health issues feel too vulnerable to speak out, and unless we’re blessed with celebrity status, our voices our seldom heard. And yet, despite all this, mental illnesses are both prevalent and serious: 1 in 4 people suffer from one at some point in their life, and they can be fatal if not properly treated. Some may recover relatively quickly, but others may need long-term and continuing care: this is the case for the residents of Rose Lodge in New Malden.
Rose Lodge is an NHS-funded community house with room for fourteen residents and trains thirteen specially trained staff. This high level of staffing is much needed, as many residents have serious mental health issues which have either been caused by or have led to drug and alcohol use. Many have suffered a complete collapse of their lives. They have lost employment, family connections, as well as the roofs over their heads. Rose Lodge provides a unique service, operating as a transitional space between the hospital and the outside world, providing a degree of independence not afforded in an acute mental health ward, and helping residents to recover at their own pace.
Yet for all of its vital work, Rose Lodge is about to close. Some residents have already been moved onto private sector providers who lack the expertise of those who previously cared for them, or to the woefully underfunded voluntary sector. Both staff and residents are facing an uncertain future: they’re planning one last Christmas together before the axe falls and funding is withdrawn altogether.
Rose Lodge is representative of many other workplaces in Kingston where public servants dealing with vulnerable people are being made unemployed. Community mental health teams have lost their deputy managers. Surbiton and Chessington Community Mental Health Teams have been forced to merge. Surbiton CMHT’s clients have lost the quiet, initimate space it used to occupy at South Place.
All this is happening despite the government’s pledge that there “can be no health without mental health”.
These attacks on the most vulnerable in society must be challenged. We must fight to keep unique services like Rose Lodge open. The issue of mental illness may not attract as much attention as heart disease or cancer, but to everyone in the “one in four” and to residents of Rose Lodge, the existence of good, professional support can mean the difference between life and death.