Mental health trust makes 'positive' overhaul following two suicides

Banbury Cake: Andrew Smith MP Andrew Smith MP

OXFORDSHIRE’S mental health provider is set to overhaul its services to improve weekend cover after being criticised following two suicides.

Oxford Health was forced to make changes to its mental health crisis team last year after it failed to help two people who went on to kill themselves.

Now the trust has decided to bring together its community mental health, crisis and outreach teams to form one group that will assess and treat patients.

The restructure will see the service operate seven days a week – the previous services only ran five days a week – with overnight cover provided by clinicians based in Oxford.

People with severe mental health problems will have better access to specialists at major centres in Oxford, Banbury and Wallingford.

These will operate between 7am and 9pm seven days a week and will be the single point of access for service users, their aim being to stop patients being moved from one team to another.

It will mean that people who ring for help will not be passed from one team to another and will also be able to access services at the weekend for the first time.

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith, who had criticised Oxford Health following the suicides, said: “This looks very positive.

“The crisis service has to respond to individuals and their families who are often in a desperate situation, so it is vital that the improved co-ordination and extended hours which these changes promise get the right help to people quickly.

“This is an important lesson from past tragedies.”

Last year, Oxford Health admitted it should have listened to warnings from a mental health nurse who raised concerns about Gareth Christian, 31, before he took his life.

Mr Christian’s mental health nurse had phoned Oxford Health’s crisis team, but because the plea for help had not come from Mr Christian directly it was ignored.

It followed the death of Graham Kirtland, 39, who was only able to contact the crisis team over a “very bad” telephone line, despite being referred by his GP.

The new adult mental health teams will combine the work of the previous community mental health teams, crisis service and assertive outreach teams.

The trust hopes to roll out the changes between January and March next year.

Oxford Health divisional director for mental health Eddie McLaughlin said: “All events that are untowards have an influence [on changes].

“But irrespective of whether there was an inquest over particular care issues, we would have been making these changes because it is sensible to make them.

“It is what GPs are asking for, it is what we want to do.”

Former mental health service user Richard Mackenzie, 34, who is bipolar, said: “I think we just have to wait and see.

“At the moment, Oxford Health has proved itself to be incompetent on so many levels. As a former service user, I felt let down at every stage.”

He said he had not been able to access the crisis team when he felt suicidal and was discharged while he felt suicidal.

Overnight cover will be provided by up to five staff based in the city.

Oxford Health also plans to base psychiatric staff at the county’s emergency departments seven days a week and will pilot a ‘street triage programme’, which will see a clinician working with Thames Valley Police officers to assess members of the public on the beat.


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