Out of Sight, Out of Mind

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It’s late at night, you’re dressed just in your pyjamas. You’re confused, scared. Someone or something is trying to hurt you. You get bundled in the back of a vehicle by people you don’t know, and driven miles away.
If you have mental health needs in Manchester, that could very well be your experience. Hopefully not. Hopefully you’ll be close to your home, your family and support networks, getting to stay on a mental health ward with staff you might already know. The chances of that are improved today, with the news that the proposal to close the older adult’s mental health ward at Trafford General Hospital has been scrapped.
Although the proposal had claimed that older people would be treated in nearby Salford, the reality is that there just aren’t enough spaces. More than 1,700 beds have been lost since 2011. Even with the current numbers of acute mental health beds in Greater Manchester, it’s not unheard of for vulnerable patients to be sent far from home in times of crisis. This is because there is already an acute shortage of facilities – the occupancy rate in Bolton is already 98%, when national guidelines state that 85% is the safe level. Some patients have presented themselves for urgent treatment only to be told there are no beds available. One lady I spoke to last year was due to be sent hundreds of miles away, from Manchester to Portsmouth when she needed inpatient care. It was only by standing up for her that her family were able to insist a bed was found closer to home.
Perhaps it is easier to send ‘away’ schizophrenics like her. But easier for who? For the ward staff who then have to launder their clothes because the family can’t visit with fresh ones? For the psychiatrists unfamiliar with the patients’ history? For the family members having to travel long distances to visit? For the patients who have to do without familiar faces, stability … even simple things like hugs from family members, while they try to get better? Imagine trying to regain your mental equilibrium in an unfamiliar town, away from friends and family.

Twenty one elderly beds at the Moorside Unit have now been saved, but the fight isn’t over yet. Ward closures in Bolton and Salford are still on the table. You can sign the petition here.

This won’t happen without you. Old age pensioners with Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, dementia, those with reduced rights under the Mental Health Act are all affected. Clearly this is a really easy group for policy makers to ignore, in the fight to save money for the NHS. But at what cost to society?
Caroline Matthews is a Mancunian, wife, mother, student and writer. You can follow her on Twitter @CarolBMatthews


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aAh! Magazine is Manchester Metropolitan University's arts and culture magazine.

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