Today Iain Duncan Smith is being questioned by the Commons work and pensions committee on universal credit, after finally admitting last week that the scheme’s targets had been “reset”. Last week, the petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment of the way welfare reform affects sick and disabled people, known as the WOW petition, passed 100,000 signatures, triggering its consideration for debate by the backbench business committee. To add to Duncan Smith’s woes, the well-respected Centre for Welfare Reform has released details of its report, How Norms Become Targets, which exposes the myth that Atos, the private company responsible for assessing the needs of people unable to work, does not do so on the basis of targets.
Today also sees the publication of the stunning People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment (pdf). It has been compiled by the anonymous organisation, We Are Spartacus, whose activism in this area has been hugely empowering. The report is a collection of statistics surrounding welfare reform and reactions of MPs, charities and professional groups to the way in which it has been administered. An almanac of condemnation, if you will. Most importantly, the report compiles statements from sick and disabled people actually going through the system.
These are most encouraging developments and point to a sea-change in the way our democracy works in this internet age. There is no doubt that without extensive use of the internet and social media, the compilation of such a detailed report would have been impossible and its publication unnoticed. For too long, this group of most vulnerable people, many of them with serious health and mobility problems, have been too easy a target for cost-cutting governments of all hues to demonise, recalibrate and victimise. This is no longer the case. Vulnerable people have grabbed the issue by the scruff of the neck and are taking the fight to the government. It is inspirational and points the way to a level of democratisation hitherto unseen.
I encourage you to read the report. It is packed with striking statistics and heartrending stories, in the words of people being put through this inhuman and degrading assessment. It contains the stories of those who can no longer speak, having taken their own lives or succumbed to their illness, while being hounded by the very department which is meant to protect them, people like Peter whose leg fused as a result of injury and, having suffered a stroke which meant he couldn’t grip with one hand, received a text telling him to attend the Jobcentre. He sent his partner a text which read “I give up”. He was found hanging at his home.
It contains incredibly powerful quotes which show that dissatisfaction with Atos is spread across MPs of all parties. Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP, said of the assessment procedure: “Not surprisingly, it adds to their [claimants] sense of worthlessness – already stoked by a longstanding political narrative from both sides of the political divide that they are ‘shirkers, not workers’ or a drain on Britain’s ‘hardworking people’. They are neither.”
It contains tragic and often simultaneously humorous stories of ridiculous assessment reports, like the one on a 59-year-old woman who had had a hysterectomy following cervical cancer, which observed: “There is no evidence that the client is currently pregnant.” Or the one which concluded that someone who took an overdose of medication the previous night had “no current thoughts of self harm”.
This programme of welfare reform was always doomed to fail for a very simple reason. The purpose of welfare is to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable; its reform must have their interests at heart, rather than cost-cutting targets. Proper reform costs money. Duncan Smith himself recognised this simple fact before he came into power. In 2009, explaining his proposed reforms, he recognised that they would lead to a rise in the welfare bill in the short-term.
Iain Duncan Smith’s fall from grace, because of a botched IT system which has already caused £140m to be written off, is properly a cause of both frustration and comedy – like Al Capone being arrested for tax evasion. But I must ask, we all must ask: how many of the vulnerable people mentioned in the Spartacus report would still be alive today if that money has been properly spent?
Cats are not just great company, low maintenance and independent; they are also very good for you. Our head of research and ex-veterinarian Dr Eva Chylarova says “Looking after a pet can bring structure to your day, reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness and act as a link to other people.”
The benefits of cat ownership on wellbeing
In 2011 we surveyed more than 600 people as part of our collaborative study with Cats Protection. Half of those people described themselves as having a mental health problem. The results highlighted some of the benefits of feline ownership:
- 87% of cat owners feel that the animals have a positive impact on their wellbeing
- 76% find that coping with everyday life is easier thanks to the animals
- Stroking a cat is a calming and helpful activity.
One of the survey participants, 33 year-old Jacqui Walker said:
“I have suffered from SAD for many years and last winter it was so bad that I was signed off work and was put on anti-depressants. I was really struggling with life and felt like I had nothing to look forward to.
“This all changed the day that I met Timothy who I adopted from Cats Protection. Less than six weeks after he moved in I was able to return to work full time. Even my doctor was surprised with the change in me. As I said to him, maybe he should have prescribed me a cat instead of Prozac!”
The benefits of cats on wellbeing are becoming increasingly accepted in society with cat cafés cropping up in several major cities, including Le Café des Chats in Paris, France and Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London, England.
These cafés are home to up to a dozen friendly felines who weave between the café tables and curl up in customers’ laps, acting as a form of ‘purr therapy’ to the general public.
Myths about cat ownership and mental health
Recent stories of the link between ‘cat ladies’ and self-harm have been misunderstood. The reports are based on a study in Denmark which showed that women who had antibodies against Toxoplasma gondii (T.gondii), a parasite which can be caught from cat faeces, were more likely to go on to self-harm.
However, it is important to note that, although there appeared to be an association, this study did not prove that T.gondii infection was causing women to self-harm. There may have been various mental health, medical, personal or social causes which this study did not explore. In addition the study was specifically looking at the association between self-harm and the parasite itself, rather than those women who owned cats.
The parasite, although commonly found in cat faeces, can also be caught from unwashed vegetables, undercooked meat and contaminated water. In most people with the infection there are minimal or no symptoms, although pregnant women and people with impaired immunity do need to continue to exercise sensible precautions. Therefore it is having good hygiene which is key to preventing infection.
Not a cat fan?
Cats are not the only animal that can offer a great form of companionship.Other pets can also act as a form of therapy for a range of mental health problems and learning difficulties including depression, ADHD, loneliness andAutistic Spectrum Disorder.
Via http://mentalhealth.org.uk via Bridget
The mental health service in England is in crisis and unsafe, says one of the country’s leading psychiatrists.
Dr Martin Baggaley, medical director of the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, spoke out as an investigation by BBC News and Community Care magazine reveals more than 1,500 mental health beds have closed in recent years.
Many trusts have all their beds filled.
Care Minister Norman Lamb said the current situation was “unacceptable” and provision must improve.
While there was a drive to treat more people in the community, he said beds must be available when patients needed them.
System ‘inefficient, unsafe’
Freedom of Information requests were sent to 53 of England’s 58 mental health trusts, by BBC News and Community Care, and 46 trusts replied.
The figures show that a minimum of 1,711 mental health beds have been closed since April 2011, including 277 between April and August 2013.
This represents a 9% reduction in the total number of mental health beds – 18,924 – available in 2011/12.
Three quarters of the bed closures were in acute adult wards, older people’s wards and psychiatric intensive care units.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust has cut its inpatient beds by 157, while St George’s and South West London has removed 155 beds.
Behind the statistics lie the consequences for staff and patients.
On the morning Dr Baggaley spoke to the BBC, he said a severely distressed patient had been transferred from Croydon to Hertfordshire as there were no beds in London.
He has 50 patients in beds outside his trust, some as far away as Somerset.
He said: “We are in a real crisis at the moment. I think currently the system is inefficient, unsafe.
“We’re certainly feeling it on the front line, it’s very pressured, and we spend a lot of our time struggling to find beds, sending people across the country which is really not what I want to do.”
Lucy Bowden sought voluntary psychiatric help, and was told no beds were available
Lucy Bowden ended up in the back of a police van due to a lack of beds after voluntarily seeking help.
The 33-year-old, who self-harms, was left wandering around the grounds of her local accident and emergency unit after being told there were no psychiatric beds available after she’d been treated following an episode.
Eventually the police were called, who had to section her to force her local psychiatric hospital to provide her with care.
She recalls: “They couldn’t find anywhere so they were saying I’d have to go in to police custody, in a police station which would mean I’d have to go into a cell. Eventually they found a bed and I had to go into the back of a police van, in the cage in the back. It was horrible.”
The bed closures are only part of the problem.
There is also increasing demand for mental health services, according to Dr Baggaley.
Dr Martin Baggaley: “There seems to be a genuine increase in demand”
“There seems to be a genuine increase in demand,” he said. “That’s partly explained by a reduction in beds, by resources coming out of the health system, the squeeze on social services budgets, and by the general economic situation.”
Average occupancy levels in acute adult and psychiatric beds are running at 100% according to the FOI figures from 28 trusts.
Half of these trusts had levels of more than 100%; all of them had occupancy rates above the 85% recommended by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
The problems of running at capacity are highlighted by the tragic case of Mandy Peck. The 39-year-old told psychiatric staff she was feeling suicidal but her local mental health service centre said they had no beds available. A day later she jumped to her death from a multi-storey car park. A subsequent investigation found that a bed had actually been available.
Care Minister Norman Lamb said: “Current levels of access to mental health treatment are unacceptable. There is an institutional bias in the NHS against mental health and I am determined to end this.
“More people are being treated in the right settings for them, including fewer people needing to go into hospitals. It is essential that people get the treatment they need early and in the community but beds must be available if patients need them.”
Dr Geraldine Strathdee, National Clinical Director for Mental Health from NHS England, said the key was to strike the right balance between providing sufficient hospital beds and helping patients to be treated at home, or in the community.
“We need to make sure the people who are commissioning services have the information they need about the level of need in their area. We have to get this right for people.”
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the charity SANE, said: “It is all too easy to find the cuts demanded by NHS efficiency savings in mental health.
“If a patient has heart failure or is in a coma, a bed has to be found. But for a person in mental distress, this is not seen to be as necessary.
“Being turned away when seeking help only reinforces patients’ feelings of rejection and hopelessness and can in our experience drive them to suicide.”
Via http://www.bbc.co.uk via Bridget
Five more police forces are to pilot a scheme whereby mental health nurses accompany officers on call-outs, the government has announced.
Nurses will join patrols, assist on emergency calls and in control rooms as part of the street triage scheme.
Trials have already been established in Leicestershire and Cleveland.
The new pilots will involve the British Transport Police and the Metropolitan, Thames Valley, West Midlands and West Yorkshire forces.
The extension was announced by care and support minister Norman Lamb.
The scheme, funded by the Department of Health and backed by the Home Office, is aimed at improving the way people with mental health problems are treated during emergencies.
Mr Lamb said: “We know that some police forces are already doing an extremely good job of handling circumstances involving mentally ill people but we want this to be the reality everywhere.
“By providing police forces with the support of health professionals we can give officers the skills they need to treat vulnerable people appropriately in times of crisis.
“We have already seen encouraging results from the other pilot sites.”
Derbyshire, Devon & Cornwall, North Yorkshire and Sussex force areas are also in the process of setting up street triage trials.
Minister of state for policing and criminal justice Damian Green said: “These pilots will help ensure people with serious mental health issues are given the appropriate care and support, while ensuring police officers’ time is freed up to fight crime.
“They also show the good partnership work going on between health services and the police to ensure people with mental health issues are dealt with by the right emergency service.”
A joint investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Constabulary and Prisons, the Care Quality Commission and the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales called for a rethink of how powers were used to detain people in a “place of safety”.
Current guidance says police should take people with mental health problems to a hospital or similar location in all but exceptional circumstances, but the investigation found detention in police cells was far from an exceptional occurrence.
Some of those detained were as young as 14.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said she hoped the ‘street triage’ scheme would reduce the “shocking numbers” of mentally ill people detained by police.
“They [police officers] often have to take people to a police cell as a place of safety because there are no beds or staff available at a hospital or healthcare facility.
“This is unfair on both the police and mentally ill people, because the majority are doing nothing more than feeling suicidal or in danger of harming themselves. They need compassion and care instead of being strip-searched and locked in a police cell and treated as criminals,” she said.
Via http://www.bbc.co.uk via Andrea and Matthew
Don’t Call Me Crazy launches It’s A Mad World – a season of films on BBC Three looking at a range of mental health issues affecting young people in Britain today, from schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders and self-harming to dealing with family members affected by mental illness.
#RT via Bridget