On Friday 22nd March at 10.30am Keep Our NHS Public Swindon, along with affected service users and both prospective parliamentary candidates from Swindon Labour and Co-op parties will stage a silent protest on the road outside Sandalwood Court psychiatric facility in Swindon. Both local Conservative MPs have also been invited.
This protest has been called to coincide with the end of the one-year temporary closure of Swindon’s only place of safety for mental health service users in crisis. NHS England will make their final decision at the end of the month as to whether the place of safety re-opens or remains closed permanently. There is significant strength of feeling locally to retain the facility and this protest represents a final show of support.
Last March, Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and AWP (Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust) made the decision to temporarily close the facility, forcing those affected to make a 90-minute round trip in the back of a police car or ambulance to Devizes to access treatment and support.
The joint strategic needs assessment for Swindon 2016/17 recommends access to mental health locally for those in need. The closure of the Place of Safety therefore contravenes this advice. In 2017 the south west was amongst the highest rate of any region in England for suicide with the highest figures recorded in three years. There are approximately 700 hospital admissions in Swindon every year for self-harm, (a much higher rate than the England average). Our Place of Safety, which supports those who are a risk to themselves or others, is therefore much needed.
These organisations have been jointly campaigning around this closure for the past year and liaising with Swindon CCG and AWP. During that time we have, (in partnership with Wiltshire police), offered what could be a possible solution to complete closure in the form of a safe assessment area staffed by a mental health nurse, but all agencies involved seem reluctant to seriously consider this idea.
A petition launched by Kate Linnegar and North Swindon Labour has been signed by over 2,000 people and around 600 Swindon residents have taken postcards to sign and send to Swindon CCG expressing their desire to see the Place of Safety remain open. The petition will be formally submitted to Paul Vater, Chief Operating Officer at Swindon CCG by Samantha Wathen of Keep Our NHS Public at a meeting next Wednesday.
They are also seeking to draw public attention to the fact that they feel that mental health services are in crisis nationally. Sustained underinvestment and a lack of ringfencing has meant there is a significant staff shortage and services are being merged in order to survive. This government has stated that there needs to be more community facilities, not fewer, yet we are seeing everywhere the consequences of a neglected system. Service users and staff deserve better.
Ann Mooney, mental health service user, campaigner and founder of Service User Network Support (SUNS) said “I’ve been mentally unwell and have had suicidal thoughts. But my family took care of me because I was too scared to call the crisis team in case they sent the police and took me to Devizes away from my boys who don’t drive so could not come to see me. Taking me away from my family would have just made me worse. They need to bring back our place of safety, in fact they should have one in every trust area.”
Kate Linnegar Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for North Swindon added, “I am very disappointed AWP and Swindon CCG haven’t looked at alternative locations or the possible secondment of staff from other trusts. They have had a year, I don’t feel there is a will to achieve a place of safety in Swindon, a town with over 230,000 residents.”