On Saturday 1 March over thirty trade unionists, campaigners and activists demonstrated outside Hellesdon Hospital, a low-security mental health hospital in Norwich.
The demonstration was in support of a continuing campaign to defend jobs and services which has united staff, patients, relatives, community groups and Trade Unions, and won support from UNISON, Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts, Left Unity, the People's Assembly and the Green Party.
The campaign was launched last November by front-line workers at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). They were appalled at the deterioration in services and the sudden rise in the suicide rate following £20M of cuts. The demonstration on Saturday was to protest the proposed closure of another 20 acute psychiatric beds and 13 pre-discharge beds at Hellesdon Hospital.
In an Open Letter to NSFT, campaigners highlighted a serious crisis in the delivery of mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. They point out that the policy of closing psychiatric beds at a time of increased demand is a disaster, especially when community care is being reduced and alternatives to admission hardly exist. Social care spending levels in Norfolk are the lowest in the country. Standards of care have inevitably declined, aggravated by staff shortages and over-use of agency workers. Patients are being discharged prematurely because of the pressure on beds. Some patients are being treated hundreds of miles from their homes. Cuts to community mental health teams have reduced support to severely mentally ill people in the community. Hundreds of cases have no allocated worker. Assertive outreach teams, catering for those with the severest mental illnesses, have been abolished.
Mental health practitioners have continued to signal to senior managers in the Trust that practices are unsafe and risk being found in breach of the Mental Health Act. Campaigners have put a detailed list of demands to the Trust, including a call to halt bed closures and re-open wards, and to withdraw the proposal to cut the number of qualified staff in key areas of the service. They also call for an urgent review of the' prevention of suicide' strategy.
There will be further demonstrations at the final two public consultation meetings, see this website for details.