The Lifeworks centre, an open clinic service in Cambridge for people who suffer with personality disorders, is being threatened with closure. Patients have been occupying the centre for eight weeks to stop it from closing.
Lifeworks is part of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust’s (CPFT) Complex Case Service. It is a community service which people can use as and when they need to. Lifeworks focuses on improving social functioning and getting people reintegrated into society.
Around 30 people are dependant on Lifeworks, which covers the entirety of Cambridgeshire.
With cuts of £6 million being made, CPFT have proposed merging the services provided by Lifeworks with Springbank, a lock-in ward providing psychiatric services for women with severe personality disorders.
This would mean closing the Lifeworks centre on Tenison Road in Cambridge and patients would become reliant on their GPs or on treatment from a centre where they cannot come and go as they need, or live life as normally as possible.
Ann Robinson and Jacqueline Kidd, who are part of the continuing occupation of the centre spoke to me.
“We’ve known something was going on for the last two years, but staff have been denying it.”
They explained that when they were referred to Lifeworks, they were promised a lifelong service. But two years ago, their regular five-day-a-week sessions were reduced to only two and older staff members were given the sack.
“Lifeworks is our lifeline. It was called Lifeworks because it was meant to be for life. Our condition is lifelong, and they want to see people discharged from the service well again, but with us this is a lifelong condition.
“Once you’re referred to Lifeworks, when you have your well episodes you can go away and live your life to the best you can, but when you get ill you don’t have to go back to your GP, you can come back here. The staff here know your triggers, Lifeworks is always there for you.”
CPFT offered empty promises of a return to the clinic being open five days a week and an increase in the number of staff, but neither have ever happened.
The centre began to bring in “socialisation groups” which allowed only a limited number of participants, and eventually led to patients only being allowed to come to the centre when signed up to a socialisation group.
People stopped coming, and 90% of the remaining patients received letters discharging them back to their GPs, with no support and no access to Lifeworks. GPs, who do not have the same specialist knowledge as the staff in the Lifeworks centre, had not been told by CPFT that this change was going to be made.
Patients formed a peer-led action group and planned a sit-in protest of Lifeworks on 4 March and have been there ever since.
They feel that losing Lifeworks will contribute to an increase in self-harm and suicide attempts in patients.
For nearly six weeks, no staff members came to the occupation to check on the patients, but CPFT managed to send pest control, fire management and health and safety officers to check on the building. “They left us here, patients with special needs, on our own.”
A scrutiny committee which normally oversees the closure of any adult well being service in Cambridge, but in this instance had not been informed about Lifeworks at all.
“They set up a working group to make sure the consultation process was not just a tick-box exercise and to make sure our side was heard”.
The fact that CPFT said that they would keep Lifeworks open during the consultation process is not a victory. They ignored the scrutiny committee and reopened Lifeworks at Springbank, meaning that patients would be batted back and forth between the GP, psychiatrist, community pathways and hospital. Thus the decision to continue the occupation.
“When you’re in this place, you’re on a knife’s edge, you haven’t got that time, you’re either alive or you’re dead. We aren’t prepared for that, because for us it’s life and death and we’d prefer to come to Lifeworks and be alive.”
CPFT have told the occupiers that they need to be out of the building by early June, but they are prepared to stay in the building for as long as it takes.
They have created a sponsorship system which allows patients who are too ill to stay in the building to support those who can, and allow their voices to be heard at the same time.
When Solidarity went to print, the occupation was waiting to give their input on discussion papers to be sent to the working group about what happens next.
The campaign to save the Lifeworks centre is one of national significance; an example of authorities discarding their responsibilities of caring for vulnerable people in the name of austerity, and of collective, direct action to stand up against the government.
They are seeking donations to sustain their campaign. Cheques to Cambridge & District Trade Union Council, marked Lifeworks. Send to Ian Beeby, Treasurer, CDTUC, 55, Station Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, CB22 4NL.
Cuts in community mental health services are creating a huge pressure on inpatient beds in England and Wales. Mental health trusts are already having to cope with cuts of more than 1,700 beds over the past two years.
The chief executive of the one of the worst-affected trusts, Lisa Rodrigues, chief executive of the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Mental health services are a barometer of how the system is operating. If you remove some of the lower levels of support that people rely on to maintain their lives, it’s not surprising that they’ll present in crisis.
“We are seeing people coming to hospital who are much, much iller when they arrive, so we have higher numbers of detained patients... we’re seeing people have to stay in hospital for longer.”
For more on the campaign see here.
To make a donation please send a cheque to Cambridge & District Trade Union Council, marked Lifeworks. Send to Ian Beeby, Treasurer, CDTUC, 55, Station Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, CB22 4NL.