On Sat 12th Dec at 3pm, campaigners gathered on Cathedral Green in Wells to protest at the planned closure of the city’s only adult mental health ward. Somerset CCG want to replace St Andrew’s Ward by opening a second ward in Yeovil, 30 miles away. In order to highlight the planned closure and the perceived link to suicide the protest consisted of a “die in”. Emma King of Wells Labour Party and organiser of the protest explains why there were three very important and interlinked reasons for the protest..
Closure of St Andrew’s Ward
“Firstly, we wanted to continue to raise awareness of the impending closure of St Andrew’s ward and to recognise the place it has within mental health services in the Mendip area. Wells has been a well regarded centre for mental health services for decades and the closure of the last remaining ward will mean the end of this legacy. Travelling to Yeovil is neither quick nor cheap. Travelling on the bus takes about 90 minutes and costs £7 and there is no public transport on a Sunday. Family and friends will be unable to visit their loved ones and this will prolong their recovery time.”
Talking about Mental Health issues
“Secondly we wanted to talk about mental health issues and raise awareness of suicide. The number of suicides in the South West and especially in Somerset is already above the average for England as a result of years of austerity and this is only likely to worsen. We had four speakers who talked about issues from mental health in the work place, inequalities in mental health provision, looking out for each other and how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted the mental health of young people.
Providing Help and Hope
“Thirdly, we provided help and hope to those who may be in need of support and helplines. After the four speakers spoke, we listened to “Dido’s Lament” by Purcell and all held candles whilst holding a minute’s silence. We need to remember that we are all the vulnerable people and the line between being okay and not being okay is very thin. It only takes a split second to walk into traffic or to jump off a bridge. Every year, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health event – we all need to know that the services we need will be there when we need them and where we need them. St Andrew’s ward must be saved. We simply cannot afford to lose any more of our local services.”
The group then sang “Amazing Grace”, four people lay down to represent those who have died and the remaining people held a vigil.
Emma continued “People attended from Wells, Glastonbury, Burnham, Bruton, Bridgwater and Frome, demonstrating that people across Somerset do not want the ward to close. The petition is fast approaching 1500 signatures, please sign and share! http://chng.it/zf6Yd6g2. We plan to take this action “on tour” to Frome in January and Burnham in Feb.”
Some Facts about Mental Health
Mind, the mental health charity, state that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem every year. Even before the covid pandemic hit, suicide cases were on the rise and Somerset is an area with above average suicides compared to England as a whole (11.8 suicides per 100,000 in Somerset, compared to 9.6 per 100,000 in England). 55% of working days lost in 2019/20 were due to stress, anxiety and depression, that is 17.9 million working days lost a year.
Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group announced the decision to close St Andrew’s ward in Wells on 24th September, after a three month consultation period, even though 54% of respondents stated they wanted the ward to remain open. They argue that, even though they have received extra funding to spend on “transforming mental health services”, they are instead choosing to remove the remaining ward in Wells to Yeovil. They claim that stand-alone wards, such as St Andrew’s, are not safe and that it is located too far away from an Emergency Department, so the ward should close and be relocated to Yeovil.
Emma adds “However, there is no actual substance to these claims as the CCG were unable to back them up with any actual incidents. Mental health wards very rarely send patients to A&E, and in this respect they are no more in need of being close to an Emergency Department than anyone else in Mendip. If the stand-alone ward is an issue, then Phoenix ward should never have been closed. We call upon the CCG to use this money to reopen Phoenix ward and to fund mental health services in Wells properly with their additional funding. The claim that staff recruitment is an issue is also fallacious as this is a problem everywhere, including at Yeovil.”
“In order for people to receive the help they need, mental health services need more investment, not cuts. Travelling to Yeovil to access this ward, if it is relocated, will be impossible for people without a private car and family and friends will not be able to visit. Patients will find it difficult to get home for short periods as part of their recovery, leading to longer periods of time in a place with which they have no familiarity. Vulnerable people, who are already disorientated will be further confused and scared finding themselves in a strange place. One patient described being taken to Yeovil as like “being abducted by aliens”.
Support our campaign!
- Sign the petition on change.org: save st andrew’s ward.
- Join Save Somerset’s Community Services on Facebook/email;firstname.lastname@example.org
- Write letters to: SCCG, Wynford House, Lufton Way, Yeovil. BA22 8HR; James Heappey MP, 10, Broad Street, Wells. BA5 2DN; the local papers, email@example.com
IF YOU HAVE BEEN AFFECTED BY ANY OF THE ISSUES HERE, PLEASE SPEAK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT:
Mindline Somerset: 018230276892 / Health Connections Mendip: 013730468368
www.healthconnectionsmendip.org/ Sweet Track Community Phone Line 073750467888
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.