Mental health cuts: ‘You abuse us again’ service user tells Camden Council meeting

The Highgate Centre, Highgate Road

The Highgate Centre, Highgate Road - Credit: Archant

Mentally ill service users at the Highgate Day Centre have slammed the changes that have taken place since its funding was halved – with one desperate woman telling those responsible that the situation is making her feel “abused” again.

This comes in the wake of the death of Jeff Mann, a service user who took his own life last year after he was told his “associate membership” at the centre, in Highgate Road, was set to end.

At a Camden Council meeting on Tuesday evening, service users addressed councillors, commissioners and healthcare professionals from Camden and Islington Trust (C&I) to voice their increasing despair over what they say is the dismantling of a vital facility.

A female service user left the powers-that-be looking uncomfortably stunned, when she told them: “It’s shameful how we are being treated, it’s like something out of another age, it’s patronising, and you should be in our shoes.

“All I can say to you is one day in your life, you will be dependant on someone else for care, and I hope someone shows you more compassion.

“Because if you’ve had issues in your childhood or your past about trust and about being silenced open up for the first time in your life. You’re there because you have tried to commit suicide, and these are the people you put your trust in....”

Referring to the recent staff changes, she continued: “And then what happens? How do you treat people with mental illness? You take all our trust away. You abuse us again. Because you are the same sort of people who say to us, ‘We’re saying the right word, we care for you, I take a personal interest in you,’ and at the same time, you might as well be sticking a c**k in our child’s mouth.

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“I’m sorry, but that’s how it feels. It feels like abuse, it feels like no care, and it just feels like cuts.”

It was confirmed at the meeting that Tony Creedon, the much-loved manager of the centre for over 40 years, was forced to leave his post last Friday.

Mr Creedon is retiring and was set to leave in June, but this was unexpectedly brought forward by C&I, who deliver the service on behalf of Camden Council, who fund and commission it.

An interim manager is in place, and C&I said they are in the process of putting a new system in place, with “move on” programmes for those who will lose their associate membership.

Cllr Nadia Shar said: “I’m actually very disappointed that people are feeling like this, and someone shouldn’t have to come to the council chamber and expose what is most vulnerable to them, what they have to go through every day, to make their point.

“That is not fair. That’s the point that it’s got to. I’m quite flabbergasted, actually.”

Cllr Shar said it was vital that service users were kept in the loop about all pending changes, because, she said: “People generally feel more secure when they know what’s going on.”

Another service user said she had received a threatening letter for a debt collection agency for backdated charges, as some people are suddenly being charged £40 a day to access the centre’s therapeutic services.

She said: “This would be distressing for anyone, but for someone with serious mental health problems, it’s the kind of thing that can push you over the edge.”

Gillian Dent, a senior commissioner for CCCG, visited the centre last week with Cllr Sally Gimson, the council’s chief of adult social care.

Ms Dent said: “There are new people coming in over the next few weeks to make sure that we can get the new programme properly up and running for both core members, and also the graduate programme, which the manager will be facilitating.”

She admitted: “It’s always disappointing when we hear that things haven’t gone as well as we would have liked them to.”

Cllr Alison Kelly, who was chairing the scrutiny meeting, said: “I have to say that I was hoping we would have things to celebrate this evening, but I’m hearing that things have got worse and not better, and I’m really, really disappointed.”

Cllr Kelly said the council would ask C&I to listen to the wishes of service users more carefully, and asked them to report back to the council in due course.

Tony Fisher, a service user and vociferous campaigner for long-term mentally ill patients in the borough, said afterwards: “We believe it is all about saving money. Ever since 2012, when the commissioning groups were formed, the mental health provision in Camden has been steadily eroded.

“They are looking for a cheap, quick fix, and if people can’t be fixed quickly and cheaply, they can go and kill themselves, basically. That seems to be their attitude.”