Social care – disaster waiting to happen

The spectre of Baby P hangs over Children’s Services. Here in Norfolk the spotlight has been on this service exempting them from taking their share of the latest round of Coalition Government imposed austerity cuts. This has meant that adult social care has been cut disproportionately. This is not without consequences. I have warned before and I repeat it – this is a disaster waiting to happen.

People who face disabling barriers whether that be physical, mental, learning, ageing are complex human beings. They also have complex lives. When people go into crisis and need health and social care support it often is also related to housing, poverty, employment, unemployment, changes in personal relationships, family circumstances and other issues. This complex web needs joined up professional solutions.

The mental health trust has experienced huge cuts to its funding and is consequently failing. We see the human consequences in unnecessary suicides and people in crisis being sent all over the country at personally to them and their families and the public purse. We see people with mental health needs unable to get an assessment because the bar is set too high and we see people discharged from the services prematurely because they show the slightest sign of recovery. We see people with mental health problems criminalised as they end up in police custody and the courts for offences related to their untreated mental health. Professional staff in health and social care are put under intolerable pressure to ‘manage’ this crisis of scarce resources. Instead of taking responsibility for dealing with this complexity they are passing the buck and retreating to statutory duty and saying ‘not my services responsibility’. This takes its sharpest form in the custody suites of our police stations, A&E and mental health wards when people are to be discharged with nowhere to go and nobody will take responsibility.

The deaths that occur as a result are clearly a tragedy for the people concerned and their families. It is not good enough for public officials regulatory bodies and politicians to point fingers and blame others or to say ‘lessons will be learned’. They won’t and they haven’t as the repeated tired and worn out phrases lose all meaning.

It is worth recalling the case of Christopher James, which was covered by the EDP at the time. Christopher suffered from schizophrenia and a drug addiction. Christopher was discharged from the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital on a Saturday after a detox course. The hospital knew that Christopher was homeless and that the addiction service, Norfolk Recovery Partnership (NRP), is closed at weekends. Of course, the NSFT team which looked after homeless people with mental health issues had been closed as part of the ‘radical redesign’.

The day after his discharge on October 27, 2013, police were called to the Sugar and Spice, a table dancing club, after a worker saw a body in a loading bay near Prince of Wales Road, Norwich. Christopher James was dead in the street following an overdose but as he was homeless, mentally ill and a drug addict, his death did not attract much sympathy. He was 27 years old.

The impoverishment of public health and social care combined with a housing crisis due to the lack of suitable and affordable social housing is a poisonous mix. The subsequent failings lead to tragedy and this is used by all the mainstream political parties cynically to justify further privatisation of our public services. This exacerbates the crisis even more.

It is bad enough when the person who is in crisis dies or commits suicide. Life is cheap in Food Bank Britain for poor, disabled people and people with mental health issues. But when they kill innocent members of the public then it takes it to a new level. Let’s hope the Ministers, politicians and senior managers who are responsible for this situation are held to account and the headlines don’t just become tomorrow’s chip wrappers. Let’s stop giving them air time to denounce others whilst taking no responsibility themselves for a crisis that is of their making.

The collective failure of our politicians and health and social care leaders is their responsibility and theirs alone. It is our responsibility to hold them to account for their collective failure. We have to demand better.