The precarious state of the UK's mental health services rarely makes the headlines despite the huge numbers of people who are affected in the country and the impact that continuing to operate a failing system is having on taxpayers.
I have a personal and parliamentary constituency background in mental health issues and, in my Bermondsey and Old Southwark constituency and across neighbouring Lambeth, there is higher prevalence of mental health conditions, including psychoses. But spending to meet the needs of those affected does not always work out proportionately and it is often left to other areas of public services to pick up the tab.
For example, as more acute needs develop, people present themselves at A&E departments in hospitals for treatment and often require sectioning. While traumatic for those individuals, it can also be expensive for the NHS. Many cases are avoidable with appropriate, earlier and less costly interventions available such as improved access to the local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT).
My mum has schizophrenia. If her GP surgery received an automatic trigger when she failed to collect repeat prescriptions, she could be more swiftly reconnected to the CMHT. Instead, my family has seen a repeat cycle of ill mental health due to a failure to collect and use prescriptions – and an equal failure by the surgery to notice or intervene.
Her CMHT discharges patients unseen in any six-month period. This acts as a barrier to re-accessing help when needed. Referrals are then only possible through her GP and, when unwell, she won't usually see a GP. This means her route back into mental healthcare has, historically, been through police interventions. She's been arrested and detained for her own safety multiple times, including most recently after a car accident – running into a bollard. Only through police or court help has she been able to re-access services.
In the most recent case, she required a judge to order a psychiatric assessment to determine whether she was fit to plead. My family and her solicitor advised her to accept the charge and she indicated she would; in court, however, she pleaded innocent because she "was wearing blue". An odd claim that the judge recognised revealed deeper problems.
Sadly this will be eerily familiar for those with family or friends with schizophrenia. The cost to taxpayers is phenomenal through police, court and prison service spending and, in many cases, is avoidable with an automatic trigger and supported, earlier interventions.
When I joined local police and a rapid response unit on two separate shifts in Southwark over the last year, the evidence of mental health service failings was all too apparent. The local team were called to help find a man who had walked into the Thames on the South Bank. The rapid response team helped a woman off a roof attempting to kill herself in Rotherhithe. The team then became responsible for getting her to South London and the Maudsley hospital for sectioning, waiting an hour just to get her inside. Another man had to be taken to hospital for admission who also had a mental health problem. Several other call outs included people with mental health problems. Insufficient support is a costly business.
Recently, the rise in sectioning and in suicides has begun to garner further attention on the need to improve mental healthcare. The Government has claimed it is providing parity with physical healthcare and claims additional resources are being provided, but problems for people and in the sector remain acute.
Until they are better tackled, through clinical commissioning groups in particular, the challenge will continue, leaving individuals and their families suffering and taxpayers severely out of pocket as a result.
Neil Coyle is Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark