‘Listen to patients’ – plea for mental health support

Inverness central councillor Richard Laird.

Disappointed: Richard Laird.

CRISIS talks to improve mental health support in the Highlands have been branded “disappointing”.

A seminar was held to help councillors understand the challenges these services are facing but it has been criticised for a lack of input from patients.

Councillor Richard Laird, who called for the event last year, said another meeting must be held so those effected can share their experiences.

The deputy opposition leader and gained unanimous support for a seminar to be held, when he raised the issue at a full Highland Council meeting in September and recounted the lack of help he received when he sought treatment for his own depression last year.

The meeting was held at the council’s headquarters in Inverness last week and although representatives from mental health support services Advocacy Highland and Highland Users Group attended, they were not invited to give a presentation.

Instead, councillors heard from NHS Highland, council staff and the police.

Councillor Laird, who represents Inverness Central, said: “To me and those support groups I have spoken to, the seminar was disappointing. “The most important voices are those belonging to the patients of mental health services but they went unheard at this seminar.

“While it was useful to hear from the council, NHS Highland and Police Scotland, I wanted councillors to also hear from the people who rely on these services.

“If more people living with poor mental health are not invited to the next meeting to share their experiences with councillors and those same agencies that attended the seminar last week then my motion will have been for nothing.”

Cllr Laird’s push for the event came just a month after a cut in the number of places at New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital in Inverness. Bed numbers were temporarily reduced from 54 to 48 in August last year due to “extreme staffing pressures” but this was made permanent in December, when health chiefs decided to give more places to people with age-related illnesses such as dementia.

During the council debate last year, Cllr Laird said people suffering mental health conditions feel they are not taken seriously and that some have been turned away for treatment despite numerous suicide attempts.

Council leader Margaret Davidson said the seminar had been a success and that another one will be held to hear from more organisations.

“This excellent seminar was arranged today because councillors acknowledged that the provision of adequate mental health services in the Highlands is of the utmost importance,” she said.

“Today was a great awareness raiser and we had outstanding presentations from NHS mental health services, child and adult mental health and the police.

“We will be following this up with a second event so that we get a clear understanding about how we can improve and plan services together with partner agencies and the voluntary sector.”

Last year a report revealed NHS Highland was falling short of target times to treat people with mental health illnesses.

Performance indicators showed 78 per cent of patients waiting for child and adolescent mental health services were treated within 18 weeks of referral, falling far short of the Scottish target of 90 per cent, although other health boards in Scotland fared only slightly better with an average of 80.7 per cent.

NHS Highland’s rate of psychological services was better, with 87 per cent of patients treated within 18 weeks of referral, compared to the Scottish average of 72.4 per cent, both missing the 90 per cent target.



Link to The Inverness Courier article here 

Homeless man was considering suicide


Allan Woodward

Allan Woodward.

A LONG-term homeless man has revealed that he came close to suicide because of his desperate financial plight.

He blames a vicious spiral of not being able to afford an Inverness property and his intense anxiety for not being able to work.

Merseyside-born Allan Woodward (31) moved to the Highland capital about three years ago to be closer to his young son after a break-up with his partner.

After a brief spell sleeping rough, he has since lived in temporary accommodation including several months under Moray Council’s wing in Forres.

Mr Woodward’s life-threatening drama ended with a court conviction for possessing a knife in a public place.

“The knife wasn’t aimed at anybody else, it was aimed at my throat,” he said.

A tragedy was avoided because, in desperation, he called the police himself.

“I contacted them before I actually went onto the roof of the Rose Street car park,” he said.

Mr Woodward claimed the council had acknowledged that his 150 ‘points’ – graded under a system of personal circumstances including the period of homelessness – is unprecedented.

But his persistence in trying to find an affordable Inverness home has proved fruitless and he claims being English has not helped his cause. The council has insisted no-one is discriminated against.

“I just want to be housed,” he said. “So, okay, living in rented accommodation I’ve got a roof over my head but I suffer from mental health difficulties and it doesn’t help my anxiety.

“I’ve known people who’ve been housed a lot quicker than me.

“I’ve been a homeless neighbour to two men who’ve been housed before me – and they had less points than me.

“The council are very flippant. They continually assure me that I’m top of the list but they’ve been doing so for the last six months.”

His plight surfaced almost a year ago after it emerged that 900 homes were standing empty in the city while nearly 1000 people were registered as living in temporary accommodation.

Mr Woodward said at the time that he could not afford to work because his supported temporary accommodation – funded by housing benefit – costs hundreds of pounds per week and private lets are too costly.

A spokeswoman for Highland Council said anyone making contact with concerns about their security of tenure, or potential or actual homelessness will be treated with respect and in confidence. She therefore declined to comment on an individual case.


Link to Inverness Courier article here