A mental health advocacy group has accused Manchester’s mental health trust of ‘harassing’ its members in an attempt to ‘cut off an avenue for mental health patients and campaigners’.
Manchester Users Network (MUN) say Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust’s ‘increasingly hostile communications’ have led to ‘anxiety and distress’ amongst members, who are all users of mental health services.
In a further blow, an unnamed mental health worker labelled the Trust’s behaviour as a ‘deliberate attempt to humiliate and further incense MUN members’.
The Trust, which cares for 12,000 of the city’s most vulnerable people, was formed as one of only five mental health and social care NHS organisations in the country.
It offers a wide range of treatments for patients in hospitals and the wider community and is supported by service users such as MUN, which seek to represent user views and campaign over issues made by external agencies.
The group acts as an advocacy service for individuals and groups of users and ex-users of psychiatric services in Manchester and actively campaigns to ensure patients’ voices are heard in the planning, provision and evaluation of psychiatric services.
In letters shown to MM, MUN members said they are now expected to obtain permission to enter the Trust’s offices every day, provide a breakdown of activity, and hand in any identification relating to the Trust whilst a review of voluntary service and patient involvement activity is undertaken.
All members have been required to return any official identification and must obtain permission for administrative duties, such as photocopying.
Furthermore, some members have been paying for group expenses from their private benefits, due to the impact of the Trust’s expenses policy.
The information also disclosed that the Trust is accused of carrying out numerous examples of service closures without proper notice or consultation from affected service users, despite unanimous opposition.
One source claimed that ‘other service users are also unhappy with the Trust’s approach to service user involvement and are disturbed by the failure to develop a constructive working relationship with MUN’.
The Trust has confirmed that the letter was corporately approved prior to its issue but did not respond to requests asking if this included all board executives and non-executives.
MUN has complained that the formal letters from the Trust are an ‘blatant attempt to control group members, following previous disputes’:
“It appears that MMHSCT have, in their frustration in dealing with MUN, have lost sight of the fact that these are users of service, doing their best to represent their views in world where their services are being cut, their benefits are being cut, and often they are demonised in the media.”
“MUN is a group of users who are concerned about patient care, patients’ rights, and patients’ quality of life and have a long history of speaking out about these issues, even when they are uncomfortable for the Trust to hear.
“This exactly the sort of group, had they been present at Stoke Mandeville, Leeds General or Broadmoor, that would have provided a route for patients to raise concern.”
In one letter, a mental health worker says he was urged to write to the Trust after seeing the impact of the Trust’s behaviour on the mental health of MUN members.
”Indeed this kind of unfairness or failure to apply ‘natural justice’ or apply the normal checks and balances when resolving disputes between MUN and the Trust is the key issue in the breakdown of the relationship between MUN and [name redacted],” they added.
The campaign group claim the Trust is incorrectly applying new guidelines following the Lampard Report, a review providing recommendations for protecting patients following 2012’s Jimmy Saville revelations.
It was mainly aimed at looking at the role of volunteers and celebrities doing NHS work or fundraising in hospital settings, ensuring they were subject to the same safeguarding checks as staff.
In a statement released to MM, the Trust wholly rejected all these claims: “The MUN do extremely valuable work and there isn’t a dispute.
“However, it is of the utmost importance that the Trust ensures its safeguarding processes are followed and we need to ensure the right governance processes are in place to protect patients and to support volunteers, service users and carers.
“This is in the best interest of all our service users, as well as protecting MUN themselves.
“We continue to work closely with all service user and carer representatives from all service user and carer groups, and discussions continue with MUN as part of this process.
“The Trust regards the implementation will be a positive step for all involved because there will be improved engagement and interaction.
“The Trust does not consider the relationship to have broken down, and continue to liaise with MUN and carers on a regular and frequent basis.”
Image courtesy of Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, via YouTube, with thanks.