Protests at mental health cuts

HUNDREDS of members of under-threat mental health centres are today preparing for a second day of protesting as they fight to save the services.As revealed in yesterday's Evening Star, a series of cuts are to be made to Suffolk's mental health services in an effort to claw back £5m of debt.

HUNDREDS of members of under-threat mental health centres are today preparing for a second day of protesting as they fight to save the services.

As revealed in yesterday's Evening Star, a series of cuts are to be made to Suffolk's mental health services in an effort to claw back £5m of debt.

Users of Old Fox House in Stowmarket, Bridge House in Ipswich and The Hollies garden centre at St Clement's hospital spent yesterday afternoon protesting with placards outside St Clement's, and were planning to do the same today.

Tessa Clayton, whose mum Bett uses the services, said: "We will stay here overnight if we have to. We will keep going until we save these places."

It also emerged today that Ipswich Hospital is believed to be closing four of its wards in an effort to find a way out of the financial crisis.

Mental health bosses are also looking at a range of other money-saving proposals including closing a ward at Bury St Edmunds and merging or reducing many other services.

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The news is at odds with announcements made earlier this week by the Department of Health.

Health minister Rosie Winterton said: "For too long mental health has been seen as the 'Cinderella service' of the health service. But this has changed. Mental health is a key priority for the government. "We've invested record amounts of money in the service and I'm pleased to see the money is getting through to the frontline."

She revealed that, nationally, mental health funding increased by £293m between 2003/4 and 2004/5.

Anthony Dooley, chairman of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust's User Forum, does not believe the investment is coming to Suffolk.

He said: "The government is always talking about the need to get people out of institutions and back in to the community.

"Why, then, are they taking services out of the community? It seems strange that some of the few community services that currently exist are proposed to close.

"Rosie Winterton has been talking about the increases in funding for mental health services yet we are being presented with news of closures.

"Too many people's lives are going to be negatively affected by these decisions."

Sue Allison, of Suffolk Carers - a support group for family carers, said: "They are taking away the very services that actually work and make a difference.

"It's impacting on those people that have the least chance of affecting any change.

"They are playing with the most vulnerable people in society and I think that's unforgivable."

Mark Halladay, chief executive of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust, said they would be assessing the individual needs of each of the patients who would be affected by the closures.

He refused to comment further on the proposals.

Are you being affected by cuts to health services? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or send us an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk