We have lost count of the number of times in recent years we have read in The News the following mealy-mouthed statement, or versions of it: ‘Community-based care must always be attempted and hospitals only considered as a last resort.
‘At the time, it was agreed that continued support in his home was the most appropriate course of action.’
It relates to the suicide of Mark O’Shaughnessy, 28, who hanged himself the day after telling health professionals he wanted to kill himself.
Craig Greer, 33, was depressed, had suicidal thoughts and went to his GP. On his advice Craig admitted himself to Elmleigh Hospital, Havant. He was discharged and three weeks later killed himself.
The cases are not related, but each highlights a continuing problem in our mental health services, which Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock so rightly refers to as the Cinderella of the NHS.
In both cases the families feel let down by this branch of the NHS.
How often do we read inquest reports in which the victim has committed suicide because of lack of weekend cover, a breakdown in communication between GPs and mental health units, and the modern thinking that those with suicidal thoughts are better off at home rather than in hospital. Far too frequently.
A recent BBC investigation concluded at least 1,711 psychiatric beds have closed nationally since April 2011. The NHS says this is because more people are being effectively treated in their own homes. That is little comfort to the families of Mr Greer or Mr O’Shaughnessy.
Anyone who has tried to help a loved one who is depressed and contemplating taking their life knows how inadequate they feel. They do not have the specialist skills possessed by the professionals who, in a proper unit or hospital, can and should monitor a patient at all times. It is not fair to place that burden on family or friends.
Of course, more money should be thrown at this Cinderella service because without it we shall be reporting on increasing numbers of suicides.