The terrible cost of cuts in Manchester’s mental health services is clearly illustrated by the death of William Scott, a 49 year old man from Manchester. William suffered multiple stab wounds that his family say were self inflicted. This tragedy was neither unforeseen nor inevitable.
William had recently lost the support worker who had cared for him for the past eight and half years.
His family had pleaded with bosses at Manchester mental health and social care trust, who had recently “reorganised” their services, to allow William’s support worker to resume their visits, but to no avail.
The reorganisation was part of a package of changes in the way mental health services in Manchester are provided, called Change in Mind, and were vigorously opposed by the Unison union.
Under the plan, some mental health teams saw staff numbers increase, but those improvements came at the price of cuts elsewhere.
Community mental health teams based in north Manchester, near to where William lived, had their psychiatric nursing staff slashed from 16 to just four, and support workers cut from seven to four.
These poorly conceived changes led to a number of patients, who had previously been visited on a regular basis, suddenly receiving little or no care for weeks on end.
“We warned management that something like this could happen,” a community psychiatric nurse told Socialist Worker.
“But when we spoke out against the changes, and said they could put people at risk, we were told we were overreacting. We always said that we could not care for the number of patients we have with the number of staff management said would remain after the reorganisation.
“Now it appears that our very worst fears have come true.”
William’s daughter Emma told the Manchester Evening News, “We tried desperately to get my dad admitted to hospital. I asked them, ‘Does he have to hurt himself or someone else before he gets help?’
“He had an excellent support worker who visited him two or three times a week, but after they left, dad went for three weeks without any home visits.”
In the week following William’s death, another vulnerable patient took her own life. According to the Manchester Evening News she was upset after her support worker was moved on.
The “reorganisation” of services provided by Manchester mental health trust were supposed to improve patient care, but in reality they were driven by the need to save money. This pattern of cuts and privatisations is being repeated across the country and it is costing lives.
For health workers, the price of speaking out against cuts has been management reprisals.
A year ago Unison union branch chair Karen Reissmann made public what the impact of the mental health cuts in Manchester would be and led strike action in an attempt to safeguard jobs and services. Today she is suspended from work and faces possible dismissal.
This week Karen has been forced to attend disciplinary hearings to hear evidence that she brought the trust into disrepute by publicly opposing the trust’s plans.
Over 700 workers at the trust have responded to the threats against Karen with a programme of industrial action, and plan to continue this by striking on every day of the hearing.
This week management added additional dates to the disciplinary hearings – Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
At a mass meeting last week the strikers voted to take indefinite all-out strike action if Karen is sacked. Unison’s national industrial action committee must ratify that decision before it can be actioned.
Meanwhile trade unionists across Britain have been rallying around Manchester mental health Unison. So far, over £95,000 has been raised for the union’s strike fund.
Money will need to continue to flood in if the strikers are to sustain their action.
The fight to defend Karen Reissmann is vital not only for health workers and trade unionists, but to all those who depend on mental health services in Manchester.
Join health workers from Manchester and thousands of campaigners at the NHS Together demonstration:
National demonstration to defend the NHS
Saturday 3 November. Assemble 11am, Temple Place, Victoria Embankment, central London
Go to » www.unison.org.uk/healthcare/keepNHSworking