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Islington mental health services under threat from cuts

‘Furore’ as Town Hall is forced to save £300,000 by closing down day centre buildings

19 June, 2018 — By Emily Finch

 

A “SANCTUARY” for women, asylum seekers and members of the LGBT community may shut in a cost-cutting move which could see the closure of half the borough’s mental health day centres.

The planned closures were revealed during a drop-in consultation session on Tuesday where a group of artists, accountants and authors who use the services fiercely opposed the plans.

The Town Hall has revealed three cost-cutting options: closing Mind Empower, in Angel; closing The Mind Spa, in Crouch Hill; or closing both buildings. Keeping the buildings run by mental health charity Mind is not an option under any of the proposals.

A group of service users spoke to the Tribune after the drop-in session at Laycock Professional Develop­ment Centre off Upper Street where a Town Hall officer outlined the planned closures.

“They’re frightening lots of people,” said one user, who wishes to remain anonymous. “I went to two meetings at the centres and there was a furore where people were crying.”

The Mind Spa offers support for women and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and calls itself a “sanctuary” where people can “socialise free from discrimination”.

It also offers specialist support for asylum seekers who have experienced trauma in war-torn countries.

The service user added: “The minute you start hacking away and editing services it won’t be long before the services become obsolete. The consultation isn’t just about buildings but services.”

The Town Hall is looking to make savings of £300,000 this year following cuts from central government and they say they can make these by closing buildings and moving the services to different locations.

But a council officer told a meeting of service users on Tuesday: “It’s highly likely there will be less staff and highly likely not all services will be run in the same way.”

They added: “We discounted the option of keeping the buildings because we would have less staff and reduced opening hours and fewer activities offered in the four sites and it will result in unused space in the buildings.”

Renting the two centres costs the council just under £100,000 annually excluding utility bills, staff wages and maintenance costs. The officer did not explain where the remaining cuts would be from.

The borough will only have two mental health day centres left, in Isledon Road and Despard Road, if the proposed closures go ahead.

Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for health and wellbeing, said: “We’re committed to improving mental health for our residents, and to day services and the support they give to people. Due to huge ongoing government funding cuts, we’re having to look at changes to how we run mental health day services in Islington.

“We believe we can save money whilst providing the best possible services in a more flexible way to meet the needs of local people. We’re currently consulting with day centre users, people who may use the day centres in future and others to get their views. We will take all feedback into account before making any decisions about changes to services.”

The consultation ends on July 27 and council­lors will make a final decision at a Town Hall meeting in October.

Labour leader: ‘It’s a disgrace caused by Tory under-funding’

Jeremy Corbyn

JEREMY Corbyn blamed “Tory under-funding” for the proposed closures of the borough’s mental health day centres and this week called for NHS mental health budgets to be “ring-fenced”.

Speaking to the Tribune, the Labour leader said: “I’m deeply saddened to hear of the proposal to close mental health services in Islington which provide a vital support service for people across the borough.

“I know so many people who have been helped by the skilled, loving, dedicated work done by these centres.”

He added that mental illness can affect any of us and said: “I want to see a country that recognises and truly supports people going through a mental health crisis.”

He also blamed the government for the cuts to mental health services in Islington. “It is a disgrace that far too many people are left to suffer alone because of Tory under-funding,” he said. “We must increase and ring-fence NHS mental health budgets.”

The Islington North MP has a long history of campaig­ning to prevent the closure of mental health services in his borough.

Service users who attend Isledon Road Resource Centre told the Tribune that they believe Mr Corbyn’s intervention prevented the service being decimated two years ago. He wrote to campaigners expressing his “concern” that they were being asked to move on after a year. He said: “I cannot see how this approach will not drive users currently with intermediate needs into greater dependence and crisis, and that ultimately the cost to the council and the [NHS] trust could increase.”

In 2008 he also accused the then Town Hall – comprised of a Lib Dem and Labour split – of “asset stripping” for wanting to merge two mental health day centres in Archway. His intervention saw the plans to merge the centres in Ashley Road and Despard Road scrapped.

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