A unique mental health service supporting dozens of vulnerable people in Sheffield fears for its future as more NHS cuts loom.
The award-winning Primary Mental Health Project has been running from Pitsmoor Surgery for 20 years.
Its small team of staff provides support for up to 90 people dealing with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, long-term chronic anxiety and depression, as well as helping carers.
But with South Yorkshire’s local NHS and social care services needing to make over £570 million of cuts in the next four years, there are fears the service’s shoestring budget could be cut further still after workers had to reduce their hours earlier this year to balance the books. The service will find out in the New Year what its financial position is from the Sheffield Clinical Commissioning Group.
Alison Frost, from the service, said: “We completely understand the difficult decisions facing the CCG.
“The situation nationally is very bleak.
“Our funding historically has been quite uncertain and at the moment we are more worried than ever.”
Alison added: “We have been going for about 20 years but always on a shoestring budget.
“We have always had a bit of a care grant and topped it up with funding from other sources.
“It is getting harder and harder to do.
“At any one time, we could be supporting 80 to 90 people, with the equivalent of 1.5 full-time workers.”
The service providers users with support with practical challenges such as transport, housing and benefit entitlement. The Primary Mental Health Care Project also provides one-to-one and small group support to vulnerable adults living alone or in supported housing in the community.
It has done things like running a drop-in knitting group, a creative writing group, running healthy walks, keep fit classes and volunteering opportunities.
In 1999, staff also set up what would become the Support Arts Gardening Education (Sage) charity, which promotes the mental and physical well-being of adults experiencing mental health problems via the provision of creative therapeutic activities.
It began as a small voluntary gardening group but in 2006 became a registered charity offering various sorts of creative therapy including arts and crafts, singing, cooking sessions and fishing.
Alison said the way the Sage charity has grown is ‘one of our biggest successes’.
Alison said the main mental health project is in a difficult position financially because it is not in the voluntary or charity sectors and is instead done through the Pitsmoor practice.
She said: “As far as our clients are concerned, it is great we are different. As far as funding goes, it is a disaster.” Their current CCG grant for the year is £42,000 and the next year’s funding will not be known until March.
“We don’t know what is going to happen in March and April but it is very difficult to plan ahead,” she said.
“Nobody else has this sort of service. The reason we started it is because our surgery had a much higher percentage of these types of mental illnesses.
“It was three times more than other parts of Sheffield.”
She said social deprivation in the local areas contributes to the higher rates.
Alison said people with mental illnesses are at higher risk at being involved in crime, often as a victim.
“Obviously people’s symptoms register themselves in different ways,” she said.
“When people are desperate, they may put themselves at risk or may be a risk. But they are much more likely to put themselves at risk.
“We do work with incredibly vulnerable people.
“Some are so vulnerable they can’t live on their own. Some are so disengaged, so frightened, they can’t engage at all and we support their carers.”
Alison said Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for many people with mental health issues.
She said: “It is cold and dark and things close down. That is very difficult for people who are alone.
“Many don’t have a network of family and friends. We help generate these social circles for them and put on Christmas activities.”
Alison added: “We are very, very small but people locally know about us. We want to spread the word about what we do.
“It is a model we are very proud of.”
She said being based in a surgery allows service users’ needs to be better understood, especially as many are dealing with physical, as well as mental, conditions.
Alison said: “Our support is truly holistic.
“It is about people’s quality of life, giving people some help and some purpose.”
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