OVER 60 health workers, service users and local residents demonstrated against the closure of the Maudsley Hospital Emergency Clinic outside the renowned mental health hospital in south London on Saturday evening.
They demanded the restoration of a full 24-hour clinical service for patients experiencing a mental health crisis, after it was announced that services will be shut from today and replaced with an ‘information service’ only.
‘We will continue to demand a full clinical service remains at the emergency clinic,’ said campaigners.
‘There is still no replacement emergency service installed at (neighbouring) King’s College Hospital, a pre-condition to the closure of the Maudsley emergency clinic.
‘And even if there was, it would be wholly inappropriate to treat service users in severe mental distress in a general accident and emergency department.’
Speakers at the rally outside the Maudsley Hospital vowed to keep fighting the cuts and continue their demonstrations.
There were also calls made for the hospital to be occupied to stop the closure from taking effect and to save the Felix Post Unit, a day hospital for elderly patients.
Professor Julian Leff told News Line: ‘I’ve worked at the Maudsley for 37 years and I was working there when they started the Emergency Clinic – and within the first three years the number of people attending the clinic went up ten-fold, showing that there was a very strong need for what the Emergency Clinic was providing.’
He added: ‘I don’t see any evidence that the need for the Emergency Clinic has gone away or that the need can be met by a busy general emergency medical department, like the one at King’s.
‘There was always a dedicated team of staff in the Emergency Clinic, day and night, who were skilled in the huge variety of mental health problems that were presented by the local people – which can’t be replaced by the suggested alternative.’
Professor Leff continued: ‘The general hospitals haven’t got the skill and expertise and the front-line people are not well enough trained, regarding the problems of mentally-ill people, to recognise when there is a psychiatric problem that needs attention.
‘The problem starts and ends with the government’s policies: this is just one example of a widespread destruction of the health service, which must be fought both at the local level and at the national level.’
Paul Yarrow, a local resident, said: ‘I’m not keen on anything the government does.
‘I know how important these services are and it’s something I have to give support to.’
He said the closure of the Emergency Clinic ‘is basically about cost-cutting and it’s something that seems to be common practice these days, with government and local councils.
‘I think there should be an occupation, something that will make the government take notice.’
He said fighting the clinic’s closure ‘is just something I know I have to do, like saving our local community centre.
‘The government just thinks it can do away with local services, it’s horrendous.’
Stan Hardy, another local campaigner, said: ‘I think it’s a chaotic situation they’ve got themselves into, it’s quite unnecessary – there was no good reason they should want to close the clinic.
‘It’s a world-renowned service which has been going for decades.
‘It’s not good enough to say it doesn’t fit into government policy.
‘They have to respond to the needs of the patients – instead of saying “too bad it has to go’’.
‘It will cause untold pain and suffering to service users.’
Graham Mabin, a service user, said: ‘The main reason I’m here is my friend, who was bi-polar, killed himself because of lack of care in the community.
‘I’m worried that more people will kill themselves.
‘When he used to get ill, the only place I had to bring him was the Emergency Clinic, because if I’d have taken him to the Accident and Emergency (at King’s), when he was psychotic, he would probably have ended up being arrested.
‘I think there should definitely be action against the closure.
‘I agree with occupying the hospital – whatever it takes – because as far as I’m concerned, the emergency clinic saves lives.
‘It’s the only place you can go if you’re in distress.’
George Wright, assistant branch secretary of Southwark UNISON, said: ‘There’s so many lies and inconsistencies.
‘With the people running the health service at the moment, it seems to me like putting Herod in charge of a maternity ward!
‘It is frightening that they are thinking of giving the NHS “independent’’ status and letting it be run by a group of people like the Bank of England.
‘Privatisation is already happening.
‘The man they’re importing as the chief big-wig of the NHS is from a private American company.’
Dr Chris Ohlsen, from the emergency clinic, said: ‘The clinic can’t be shut or changed until there is adequate provision, as defined in (Health Secretary) Patricia Hewitt’s letter.’
He urged the South London and Maudsley Trust (SLAM) and the local PCTs (Primary Care Trusts) to ‘do the right thing’.
Lambeth patients’ charity leader Mary Roberts, who has been campaigning against the cuts in south London mental health services, said: ‘I think that the community groups in Lambeth and Southwark need to come closely together to support one another, regardless of age or orientation, and keep the pressure up on SLAM and the PCT in Lambeth and Southwark.’
At the end of Saturday evening’s demonstration, local Southwark and Bermondsey MP Simon Hughes arrived to address the rally and said he would take a petition to parliament this Wednesday.
He also called on campaigners to continue demonstrating outside the hospital every Saturday from 2.00pm ‘until July’.
Hughes said ex-Prime Minister Blair had made a pledge during questions in parliament that an alternative service would be put in place at King’s College Hospital.
However, News Line was told that from tomorrow there will only be ‘a support worker and a nursing auxiliary’ available to offer ‘advice’ to patients.
The rally heard that there is ‘no dedicated space’ at King’s College for patients experiencing a mental health crisis.
• Campaigners are due to assemble outside Maudsley Hospital at 1.00pm this Wednesday with their petition against the emergency clinic closure.