NHS Highland is allegedly paying a mental health charity thousands of pounds for a service it is not providing in Golspie.
Local resident Alan Bethell, chair of Inverness-based Spirit Advocacy – a group representing users of mental health services – claims Change Mental Health is being paid to provide a service that no longer exists in Gatehouse, Golspie.
However, this has been strongly refuted by Change Mental Health, formerly Support in Mind Scotland.
The Edinburgh-based charity has been operating out of the Gatehouse – a bungalow in the grounds of Lawson Memorial Hospital – for more than 20 years, offering a “relaxing and relaxing” place for people in East Sutherland affected by mental ill-health to seek support through group work. “
Users are referred to Gatehouse by GPs and community psychiatric nurses.
Bithell, a former user of the service, said that until 2016, Gatehouse was working fine, but the service has changed after a change in management.
He claims that there was a “lack of kindness” and a stricter regime, with former Gatehouse users no longer able to go for a coffee and a chat if they felt the need, as was the case previously.
Clients were also no longer able to chair monthly planning meetings or take minutes and Gatehouse was closed at lunchtimes, which was not the case before.
According to Mr Bithell, the Gatehouse was closed at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and has not been opened since. He said Change Mental Health initially offered phone and Zoom support but that petered out.
“There have been no users of the service on the books for nearly a year, but they’re still getting paid,” Bethell said.
His Freedom of Information application to NHS Highland shows Change Mental Health received £15,480 in 2020; £23,220 in 2021 and £15,480 last year.
“I think this is a little scandalous to say the least,” said Mr Bithell. “This amount of money could be very beneficial to the mental health of the people of Sutherland if it is used to provide a service. NHS Highland has known about this and has not taken any action on it in a year.”
He added: “I am in contact with the Scottish Recovery Network who have put in place a plan for people who want to develop their own mental health support group. They are encouraging people to come together and create their own support group. The idea is that these small groups will develop into a service that the community needs.”
Change Mental Health said the allegations made by Mr Bithell were unfounded and strongly refuted assertions of “unkindness”, as well as barring service users from chairing meetings or taking minutes. It was acknowledged that service users were no longer allowed to stay in the Gatehouse during lunchtime, but that “contingencies” such as coffee at Lawson’s or locally had been organized.
The charity said it was “innovating for best practice” with a “new service model at Gatehouse that was more transparent, equitable and focused on recovery”.
She said last year was a “transitional year” for this new model. Users of the service were consulted about it and those they didn’t like left.
A spokesperson said: “Every service user who has signed up for the new model has been consulted, but they leave if they don’t like the new model.
“We spoke to service users twice a week and those who did not want to participate in the new model were given an appropriate exit plan and flagged for appropriate support in the area.
“Support was very limited, but it certainly wasn’t a thing as we were going through the transition to a new service model.”
NHS Highland said: “Change Mental Health is a third sector organisation, funded in part by NHS Highland. They provide mental health services in Fort William, Golspie and Inverness.
“We were aware of changes to the service due to the pandemic, and they had significant staffing challenges which affected services.
“They have kept us updated on their plan going forward and although we don’t have an exact date, they expect to be able to open at the start of 2023 and will be running wellbeing groups, activity groups and courses that provide support for people to maintain their mental health and wellbeing.”