SNP slam Labour cuts in mental health services

Michael Matheson

Proposals to terminate an out of hours helpline for those suffering from mental health problems has been slammed by local SNP MSP, Michael Matheson and SNP Councillors within Falkirk Council.

The “Time Out” helpline was established to some years ago and operated by the Falkirk & District Association for Mental Health (FDAMH) with six part time members of staff.

On average they received and dealt with 7 calls per night from people suffering from various mental health conditions and the SNP believe saved lives by their presence.

However, staff and service users have been informed that as from 1 April the service is being disbanded despite the fact a report has never been considered at any time by primary funder, Falkirk Council.

Falkirk West SNP MSP, Michael Matheson believes this decision may cost lives and is demanding a rethink by Falkirk Council’s Labour / Tory coalition leaders.

He said,

“This much valued was part funded by from the government’s Choose Life fund and while that fund no longer exists Falkirk Council are still receiving the same settlement and when this ring fenced fund was in existence.

There is therefore no excuse for the termination of this valuable service.”

Mr Matheson went on to say,

“Those of us who have fought for many years to have mental health issues given the same recognition as physical disabilities feel that the decision to scrap the helpline sets the campaign back ten years.

However, what is most disconcerting is that this decision has been taken behind closed doors with no consultation with service providers or service users. Indeed, not even elected members of Falkirk Council’s opposition SNP Group were aware of the decision to pull the plug on funding.”

Mr Matheson is urging Falkirk Council leaders to think again and has written to council leader, Linda Gow seeking and urgent meeting to discuss the future of the service.

He has also written to NHS Forth Valley Chief Executive, Fiona McKenzie, with a view to the Health Board intervening and is demanding both agencies work together to save this service.

“This service can not be allowed to terminate with no alternative in place to deal with fall out from the closure.

These are vulnerable people we are dealing with and they deserve better treatment than that being dished out to them by Falkirk Council’s current Administration.”

Mr Matheson was supported by Falkirk Council’s SNP Group Leader, David Alexander, who raised the issue at the meeting of Falkirk Council’s Policy & Resources Committee on 12 January.

Mr Alexander said,

“I understand that the current Administration have created a financial rod for their own backs with their failure to balance Social Work Services books this year, at present there are heading for a £4m overspend.

However, vulnerable people should not be asked to pay the price for of the incompetence of the council’s leadership.

The SNP warned that if collective action was not taken at an early stage to properly manage social work spending then front line service such as the Time Out Service would face the axe and service users would suffer.

Our warnings and offers of joint working were rejected and now those residents of Falkirk district who suffer from mental health will pay the price of the Labour / Tory inactivity.”

Councillor Alexander is also demanding to know what other services are to be cut for next year. He said,

“The 2010 / 11 budget is not due to be discussed until 10th of February and yet services are already being told that decisions have been taken to stop funding these services.

Clearly these decisions have been taken behind closed doors within the Administration and that is an abuse of power. If Labour and their Tory partners want to cut front line services let them have the courage to do so while under full public scrutiny.”

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