Suicide fears over changes to counselling services in Lambeth
Changes to mental health services in Lambeth could lead to more patients spiralling into despair and even possibly committing suicide, it has been claimed.
More than 600 people, including GPs and patients, have signed a petition against plans to replace qualified counsellors with trainees.
A total of about 47 experienced counsellors, who take on cases referred by GPs, currently work part time with some trainees – but that number will be reduced to about 10 under new plans by South London Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (Slam), which is subcontracting services to a private centre.
Slam said experienced counsellors would be complemented with 70 trainees, plus wellbeing practitioners and other trained professionals in goal-orientated cognitive behaviour therapy.
But counsellor Carolyn Emanuel, who manages a counselling team at GP surgeries and started the petition that calls on the clinical commissioners to stop the changes, said: “My greatest fears are that mental illness will be even more of a problem than it is today.
“My greatest fear of all is there would be more suicides because people are in so much despondence and so much despair.”
An assistant headteacher in Lambeth who signed the petition – but wanted to remain anonymous – said a “fantastic” counsellor helped her out of depression following diagnosis of incurable multiple sclerosis two years ago.
She said: “It was very dark despair. I just cried all the time. It was awful. The counsellor helped me immensely. It was my saving grace.”
She said a trainee could not have helped her and she would have ended up struggling for much longer.
She said: “Counselling is a last resort for so many people.
“They are at the end of what they capable of doing. I don’t think it’s the time to see people who are not qualified.”
John Manley, clinical director of Lambeth Improving Access to Psychological Therapies which is run by Slam, said the changes would mean more patients access the most effective treatment and dismissed fears patients might possibly commit suicide.
He said: “In fact, the opposite is true. These changes will see patients for the first time get access to the most effective treatment in a new system that responds earlier to people at risk.”
Ms Emanuel said self-employed counsellors would go when their contracts end by November and the remaining counsellors would transfer to the Awareness Centre based in Clapham.
She said: “I am appalled commissioners are agreeing that this is an ethical decision for people with mental health needs. To believe this to be a cheaper option is short-sighted and irresponsible.”
Geoff Martin, from pressure group Health Emergency, said: “This is a cheapskate option. Clearly the people who rely on those services have got very severe needs and they need somebody with experience to get them through a mental health crisis.”
In July the Lambeth Clinical Commissioning Collaborative Board (LCCCB) awarded the contract for talking therapies services, which help patients work out how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings, to Slam.
A spokeswoman at NHS South East London said people with mental health needs could not equally access treatment at the moment.
She said: “Counselling services will continue to be provided by both experienced employed counsellors and trainees on recognised accredited training courses.
"The new service will offer greater choice for patients in the options available and increase access for those who need it.”
The news comes as a report by charity the Samaritans out this week revealed disadvantaged middle-aged men from deprived areas are more likely to commit suicide.
Compared to other parts of the UK, the population of Lambeth is one of the most deprived and its residents are more likely to have a greater need for mental health services.