Mental health services slashed

MORE than 200 mental health patients are to be the latest victims of the NHS's bid to claw back millions of pounds in debt as three care centres are to be axed, it was revealed today.

MORE than 200 mental health patients are to be the latest victims of the NHS's bid to claw back millions of pounds in debt as three care centres are to be axed, it was revealed today.

Community drop-in centres will be closed, along with the Hollies garden centre at St Clement's, in Ipswich, and an in-patient ward in Bury St Edmunds - all in a bid to try and regain control of spiraling debts.

Bett Clayton, 43, of Eye, who suffers from bi-polar disorder, panic attacks and depression, has been a member of Old Fox House, in Stowmarket, for eight years. She said: "People here are devastated.

"The managers don't seem to realise this isn't just a building, it isn't just money. It's people's lives.

"When I heard the news I just wanted to kill myself. I can't imagine my life without this place."

A letter was sent to all staff yesterday informing them of the plans.

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As well as the Old Fox House clubhouse in Stowmarket, Bridge House in Ipswich is also under threat. They are drop-in centres for people with mental health difficulties. Members can call in for lunch and a chat and they provide a range of activities for them.

Between them they have more than 200 members.

The Hollies is a garden centre based on the St Clements site which helps people with mental health problems to get back in to work.

Mark Halladay, chief executive of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust (SMHPT), said: "We're trying to do two things at once here - modernise our services and save money - as is the rest of the NHS system.

"It means we have to make savings of more than £5m in the next six to eight months and certainly by the end of March 2006.

"This is a very large sum of money to save in a short period of time and this means we will have to be more radical in the changes we propose than we have been previously."

There are currently five permanent members of staff at Old Fox House and three at Bridge House

Mr Halladay could not rule out redundancies and said closing services "is a serious action but necessary to save the money we need to".

He added: "We understand everyone may be unsettled about the proposed actions and staff will be worried about their jobs.

"Managers will be talking to staff and listening to their views over the next few weeks.

"Representatives from the users and carers groups and the Suffolk Patient and Public Involvement Forum have also been briefed.

"Members and users in those areas suggested for closure will be consulted and have the situation explained fully once the proposals have been agreed by the board."

All the proposals, including merging or reducing other services and putting all new developments on hold, will be put before the SMHPT board on July 28. If they are approved a period of consultation will have to take place before any definitive decisions are made.

Will you be affected by the changes? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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