I had my run-ins with Panorama when working for Tony Blair, usually because they tended to take a grain of truth from somewhere and flam it up into something worthier of a right-wing tabloid than the BBC.
But tonight’s version is all the stronger for being somewhat understated, telling the story rather than shouting it or ramming it down throats. I know our government leaders are busy (almost all) men, but I hope they find time to watch it. Because while they talk the talk on mental health, as the Prime Minister did in his party conference speech, the documentary shows the reality of mental health services on the frontline.
What is clear, as so many working in mental health care already know, is that demand for services is growing, partly I hope through greater awareness and the lessening of taboos, but more because of austerity, social security and other service cuts; but at the same time as demand is growing, the supply of services needed is being cut.
When I protested that a mental health emergency facility in Camden was being closed down, I was told that the reason was that ‘it never runs at full capacity.’ That is surely the point, that those who are in a facility get the care they need, but there is at least some capacity for emergency admissions, given that is the purpose of such a place.
The consequence of that twisted logic is clear in Panorama’s portrayal of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey mental health trust, which documents the very real human consequences of the phrase ‘pressure on beds.’ We see staff constantly on telephone conference calls trying to find beds for patients often being brought to their attention by police under the Mental Health Act. With the system operating at ‘over 100 per cent capacity,’ for each new patient that must get a bed, the clinicians and administrators have to make a decision about who should go out. They must nominate ‘the least unwell patient,’ regardless of how unwell that patient may be.
Imagine if this were to happen in a cancer ward, that the ‘least cancerous patient’ had to make way for a new diagnosis. It is because it is mental health, which has gone back to being a cinderella service under this government, that this is allowed to happen, and that barely a peep is heard.
Cuts to mental health services have been 20percent higher than cuts to other health services. The trust being examined by Panorama has lost a third of beds in five years, and this has happened at the same time as a surge of sectionings under the Mental Health Act of people thought to be a danger to themselves, others or society.
Cameron and Osborne could probably do with a quiet night in front of the telly after their busy week being nice to the Chinese. They should spend it watching Panorama, and witness the massive gap between the caring rhetoric of understanding, and the calamitous reality of their policies, and the impact on some of our sickest fellow citizens.
- Panorama on BBC1 8.30pm Monday, Britain’s Mental Health Crisis