Mental health funding cuts will lead to more suicides in Milton Keynes, warns Coroner

The Coroner has issued a grim warning that suicides in Milton Keynes will increase when the council and NHS stop funding a major mental  heath charity.

Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 10:41 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 11:45 am
Coroner Tom Osborne

Tom Osborne user his powers to serve a Section 28 report blasting the joint decision to stop all financial aid to MIND, whose experts provide urgent help and advice for people with problems.

And, with eight suicides already in MK since January - compared to 15 throughout all of 2018 - it appears his fears could be founded.

The Coroner’s hard-hitting report states: “My concern is that the decision not to provide counselling to some of the very vulnerable people within our society will result in further deaths from suicide.”

Coroner Tom Osborne

Mr Osborne made the report after hearing the case of a man with mental health problems who took his own life by jumping from MK hospital’s multi-storey car park.

The inquest listened to evidence from a senior local GP and a top clinician from mental health services.

Both were concerned about the withdrawal of MIND’s funding by both MK Council and the local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

“They expressed the view that as a result of this decision it is inevitable that further lives will be put at risk from self-harm and suicide,” states Mr Osborne’s report.

It adds: “In my opinion action should be taken to prevent future deaths and I believe you and your organisation have the power to take such action by reviewing the provision of counselling services in Milton Keynes.”

Council chief executive Michael Bracey replied confirming the council’s contract with MIND will end in April.

After that, the council will focus its investment on “frontline mental health social care services” while MIND develops its own funding opportunities , he said.

CCG chief operating officer Richard Alsop said MK’s NHS mental health service is exceeding all national requirements and treated 4,500 people over the past year.

He said the CCG was investing in a new Primary Care Plus service to help GPs access specialist support for people with serious mental illness.

Labour council leader Pete Marland said the service the council had been commissioning from MIND was primarily to deal with low level addictions, such as gambling.

He said:“I respect the coroners concerns, mental health services are hugely important, but I think he has misunderstood the service that Milton Keynes Council were commissioning from MIND. We did not re-commission the low level addiction service in the same way when the contract came to an end because we are looking at a more sustainable approach that reaches more, not fewer, people."

He added: "Mental Health is primarily a health service, and should be given the same priority in the NHS as if you need to see a GP. I think we all acknowledge that mental health services are vital. It is a Government ambition that mental health services are recognised at the same importance as physical health by the NHS, but we all know that mental health services in the NHS are underfunded and difficult to obtain. The reality is that rather than looking at relatively minor commissioned services, we need to have a proper conversation about why years of promises over increased funding for mental health services in the NHS has never materialised."

But opposition Conservatives are not happy. Leader Alex Walker said: "The coroner is rightly alarmed at the Labour administration's decision to withdraw the only free counselling service in MK. Something we have raised on a number of occasions and been ignored.

"Some of our most vulnerable residents will now be charged for the help they desperately need, which will see many people, particularly those on low incomes, go without.

"It’s high time they reconsider."