The future of mental health services? Don’t forget the current failures.
Posted Thursday 18 November 2010
There’s much talk at the moment of the future of mental health services. Is NHS funding really protected? What does the move to GP commissioning mean for mental health? Yet there’s a need to focus attention on the current state of services too, which is what Mind is doing through our new Care in crisis campaign.
As I prepare to speak at an NHS seminar next week on ‘safeguarding service users within the criminal justice system’, it strikes me that one issue isn’t getting much attention at present. Far too many people are the victim of crime or abuse when receiving mental health services, either in hospital or in the community – and too often people never see the perpetrators brought to justice. One person told Mind:
I was abused by mental health staff over 13 years. Stolen from, assaulted, denied food, water and medical attention, bullied, threatened, intimidated, and now repeatedly rejected and denied any support.
Sometimes nothing happens because people fall through the gaps in services, so no one picks up on the abuse and people feel disempowered to speak up themselves, due to barriers within the criminal justice system. Within institutions, in particular, abuse by other patients or staff is often seen as an ‘internal’ incident and dealt with by complaints procedures – which may be flawed, non-transparent, or inaccessible – without any involvement from the police. I entirely disagree with the implication in this, that abuse committed when people are in the care of mental health services is somehow less of a crime and should be dealt with outside the criminal justice system. Everyone must have equal access to justice – that is a fundamental human right.
There’s a glimmer of good news – after a lengthy review of the ‘No Secrets’ guidance on how agencies should work together to protect people from abuse, the Government is now developing a new approach, including specific guidance for mental health professionals. That is welcome, and Mind is engaging with the process, but it won’t be enough.
As debates on the future of mental health services roll on, this aspect must not be forgotten. It is bound to come up as part of Mind’s Care in crisis inquiry – and if you missed the opportunity to fill in our survey, you can still share your experiences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, next week and in the future, Mind will keep pushing the message with Government and frontline staff from a range of agencies, that equal access to justice must become a reality for people with experience of mental distress – whether they are receiving services in hospital, in the community, or not at all.
Amy Whitelock, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer
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