October 26th 2012
NSUN members have said NHS and council cuts, poor consultation and benefit changes are combining making the lives of people with mental health conditions harder.
Although the charity’s second annual conference discussed these problems we also heard that by working together and convincing politicians, health professionals and those who commission them to listen there is hope.
More than 100 members from all over England gathered at the Lowry Centre, Salford, Greater Manchester for the annual general meeting and members’ day.
We heard that many had been put under pressure by the Work Capability Assessment threatening their benefit income and that this was contributing to a rise in suicides.
Meanwhile the Manchester Users Network, among others, described feeling increasingly left out of conversations with their local NHS Trusts and council about the services they relied on adding to a sense of frustration, isolation and powerlessness.
Calderdale’s Kate Atkinson said that many of the local charities regain her independence, like the Citizens Advice Bureau, had lost significant funding as cuts to council budgets bite.
As the NHS implements 20% ‘efficiency savings’ at the same time as undergoing the biggest top-down reorganisation since its creation many feel they are being ignored even when they have good ideas of how to improve services and create efficiencies.
Although more than 95% of NSUN members were against the Health and Social Care Bill the independent charity is determined to make the best of any opportunities to give mental health service users more control over their own lives and to support each other.
To that end NSUN has created a ‘Mental Healthwatch’ to join up mental service users and encourage them to get involved in their local Healthwatch, which is the new statutory patient representative group that will take over from Local Involvement Networks (LINks) in April next year.
Already NSUN has more than 80 volunteers covering over half the country sharing information via the charity who can then lobby government and other agencies when things are not going well. NSUN can also feed useful information and evidence for the value of service-user involvement in commissioning and even providing the services they use.
From London to Liverpool, Newcastle to Milton Keynes mental health service-users described how working together they have supported each other and influenced the commissioning of their services improving their lives and contributing to improving care for others.
Julia Smith, from Rochdale spoke of the need to real personalisation where service-users control the budgets used for their care to enable them to make choices gaining confidence and control.
Nottingham’s Torsten Shaw spoke of the need to expand peer support, where trained people with experience of mental health conditions help others earlier in their recoveries.
The conference had seen through their own experience the best way to achieve efficient services was to give more control, training and support to service-users themselves.
If this is done properly isolation is reduced, confidence and skills are built and recoveries are aided.
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