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23rd Day of Lent: Going without the support of our own MPs – Open Letter

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Dear Norfolk & Suffolk Members of Parliament,

We are a group of mental health staff, people who use services and members of the community who are deeply concerned about the impact of cuts forced on our mental health trust.

Today we are walking side by side from the office of Ben Gummer MP in Ipswich to the office of Simon Wright MP in Norwich in protest at these savage cuts and to raise awareness of the true human impact.

Our MPs have largely remained silent on these damaging cuts. We utterly refute any claim that the mental health trust has enough money and that staff pay and ‘increments’ is somehow to blame for the crisis in mental health services. In fact, in order to prevent damage to front-line services and minimise redundancies, the average annual salary at NSFT fell by 15.2% or £4,040 (from £26,557 to £22,517) between 2011 and 2013 (Source: NSFT Annual Reports). The average salary of a mental health worker at NSFT is one third that of an MP, even without the generous expenses and the forthcoming eleven per cent pay rise. Salaries have not just been static as part of the public sector pay freeze, they have fallen dramatically in real and absolute terms.

This is not a question of some lazy stereotype of greedy public sector employees failing to ‘share’ in austerity measures. Some low-paid employees, as detailed on our website, cannot afford to put petrol in the cars they need to visit patients across a vast rural area. Indeed, salaries, working conditions and morale has fallen to the extent that NSFT is facing a recruitment crisis, with 361 vacancies and hundreds of unallocated cases which is leading it to use expensive agency staff and consider overseas recruitment.

Mental health accounts for 23% of illness, yet is only allocated 11% of NHS funding. We are sick of hearing platitudes about “parity of esteem”. Parity of funding would be a start. The availability of cost-effective, recommended treatments is being reduced or abandoned because of lack of staff and funding despite the greater financial and human costs elsewhere in society, as outlined below.

We have chosen to start our walk on All Fools’ Day. Throughout history the use of language has played its part in reinforcing stigma and stereotypes, nowhere more so than in respect of mental ill health. We believe that stigma is one reason that mental health services are being decimated, with barely a whisper from our elected representatives. If people in Norfolk and Suffolk were unable to be admitted to their local accident and emergency department in a physical health crisis because there were no beds there would rightly be outrage. Action would be demanded.

If someone who had a stroke had to be taken (at great cost by private ambulance because there are few ambulances available either) to the nearest hospital bed in Darlington, Somerset, Bradford, Manchester, Harrogate or Glasgow MPs would be falling over themselves to call for urgent action.

This is the reality for many people in Suffolk and Norfolk experiencing a psychiatric emergency. The cuts and imposed reorganisation of services have left people facing unacceptable delays for assessment, even lengthier delays awaiting allocation to a team for treatment and then another delay for treatment itself. There are simply too many people to see, not enough staff to see them and insufficient money to hire the staff required.

Changes made fly in the face of an evidence base, for example axing Assertive Outreach teams which are nationally accepted as having a vital role to play in reducing suicide. Early intervention in psychosis teams have been reduced or absorbed in to generic teams, leaving a post code lottery for young people experiencing a first episode of psychosis. A false economy, as care by a specialist early intervention team saves on average £14,500 per person compared to treatment by generic teams.

Shame on you, and shame on your parliamentary colleagues. We need extra resources and the need is urgent. Vulnerable people are desperate and some are dying needlessly. We are not prepared to remain silent.

What will you do?

Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk & Suffolk

(On behalf of 1,703 campaign supporters)

* The Norfolk & Suffolk members of Parliament who are letting us down are: Norman Lamb (Care Minister responsible for mental health), Chloe Smith, Simon Wright, Henry Bellingham, Elizabeth Truss, George Freeman, Keith Simpson, Richard Bacon, Brandon Lewis, Peter Aldous, David Ruffley, Therese Coffey, Dan Poulter (Health Minister), Ben Gummer, Tim Yeo and Matthew Hancock.

** If you click on your MP’s name, you can send him an email of complaint. If you are unsure of who is your MP, you can find out by clicking here.

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