The NHS mental health crisis helpline for people in Berkshire West is “not fit for purpose“, according to information published in the minutes of a meeting of the Berkshire West CCG (Clinical Commissioning Groups) governing body.
When the CCG quality team visited the crisis service, run by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, it found it did ‘“not have an effective crisis line – one line with no sufficient answerphone service”, which meant messages were “stacking up“.
A summary of the visit (see item 2.5) added that there was no designated call handler employed to triage and signpost people calling in (like there was for the crisis line in Berkshire East). More than half of the calls were “inappropriate“, from people who might not have been in crisis, because the “the number is given out everywhere“.
The issue was discussed at the Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group governing body meeting in public, on 12 March 2019.
The CCG’s quality team undertook the visit of the crisis service and had described what they found as ‘shocking’.
The CCG’s chair, GP Dr Abid Irfan, and CCG nursing director Debbie Simmons who oversees the quality team, told the governing body meeting that the findings were being taken ‘absolutely seriously’. The quality team are due to go back to BHFT to see what immediate steps had been taken to improve the crisis line handling, and the CCG was also carrying out a longer-term review of the mental health crisis pathway to see how it works for patients.
One mental health professional at a charity in Newbury also said the ineffective line had been a known problem for some time.
Mental health coordinator at Eight Bells For Mental Health Kathryn Dundas added that the service is continually letting people down. Mrs Dundas said: “I have to call the crisis line a number of times on behalf of some of our members.
“There have been times when I’ve been left really frustrated – and I don’t have mental health issues.
“When someone is really distressed and contemplating suicide and has to go through this ordeal, it’s alarming in the least.
“People have been flagging this up for a long time.
“There’s nothing worse than seeing someone in an acute state of distress, which is just added to because the system isn’t fit for purpose.”
These findings have emerged a year after Healthwatch West Berkshire held a collective event in the series called “Thinking Together” to explore how mental health services can be better delivered West Berkshire
The Thinking Together event – which was attended by health professionals including those from Berkshire West CCG – explored the meaning of ‘crisis’.
Following the Thinking Together event, a Co-Produced Crisis review report highlighted how concerned service users were not only about the crisis response, but also for the wellbeing of the staff at the crisis service, suggesting that they suffered high levels of burn-out, which in turn led to clients having to deal with a regular change in staff. Now we are calling for radical and immediate action to improve the front line service.
Our chief officer Andrew Sharp said: “We and local voluntary groups have been highlighting and campaigning about the shortcomings in this service via events, reports and lobbying.
“As seen in our The Thinking Together For Crisis Review report of last year, this was an issue the Clinical Commissioning Group was made aware of.
“It is disappointing that following an announced quality visit to the service by Berkshire West CCG in November 2018, which resulted in an acknowledgement of a lack of appropriate crisis line, seemingly little has been done.”
The mental health crisis line is one of a number of services that provides emergency care for patients across West Berkshire.
The line is currently manned by one dedicated member of staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Berkshire West CCG said that if the line is busy, the call is automatically diverted to another member of the team who can provide support.
If all other clinicians are on other calls, there is a voicemail facility and messages are picked up as soon as a clinician becomes free.
A spokesperson for Berkshire West CCG confirmed a review of the service is currently under way and another visit is being conducted.
The statement read: “The quality visit highlighted good practice in a number of areas along with some areas of concern and a review is currently under way to identify where things need to improve to ensure all mental health crisis services are meeting the needs of those who require them.
“As part of this, we are looking at what improvements can be made to the delivery of the crisis line service.”
Mrs Dundas originally joined Eight Bells when it was set up as a drop-in centre to offer support for those experiencing mental health problems.
She says her role has “changed beyond recognition” since starting at the charity, adding she now directly refers clients to mental health services because the wait time after being referred through a GP is too long.
Do you have any experiences of using the mental health crisis service? If so, then we would appreciate it if you share your experiences with us. You can do this by any of the following:
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