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Blairite Burnham increased suicides

Ex-ADRU | 07.08.2015 17:16 | Analysis | Health

Burnham is probably the strongest of the three Blairite candidates vying for the Labour Leadership. As a Health Minister in 2007 he ordered that people with serious long-term mental health problems be abandoned to suffer and die. New research has been published into the suicide rate of the mentally ill. This show he increased suicides among middle-aged men, 45-54 years old, being treated in the community in England, by a whopping 73%.

This new report (Ref 1.) does not actually mention Burnham or the changes which he made. However, the increase in suicides does start when he made his changes, and it offers no clear alternative explanation. Suicides in Scotland fell substantially, but in England they rose. Across the UK, suicides among in-patients dropped by 61% from 2003 to 2012. In the last decade suicides by patients under crisis resolution/home treatment (CR/HT) have increased. In England there are now three times as many suicides under CR/HT as among in-patients. The biggest increase was among men aged 45-54.

All of this shows the biggest problem was in community care in England.

Stress and trauma are often triggers for mental Health problems. When I was being treated at a specialist NHS unit for people with OCD, they explained to us that stress would make our illness worse. I know this is also true for people with some other forms of mental illness, although I can’t say if it’s true for everyone. Obviously then, it’s important for such people's health that they should not be subjected to unnecessary stress. Yet in 2007, Burnham ordered that anyone whose illness wasn't improving should be discharged. Community Mental Health Trusts (CMHTs) were actually given a quota to discharge each year. Even people who weren’t discharged were to be given virtually no help at all. Burnham gave a speech in which he told Community Mental Health Trusts to ”Stop helping people so much”! None of this is mentioned in the report.

Burnham’s changes were brutal, implemented without any safeguards at all to protect vulnerable people. While they may not have been improving, without constant support, many of them rapidly deteriorated.

Of course Burnham wasn’t stupid enough to say “just let them die”. He ran it through an Orwellian Newspeak generator, and it came out as “encourage them to be independent”. However, in off the record briefings, some journalists were told that life was too easy for mentally ill people. They needed to be forced out of their “comfort zone” (still a favourite Blairie phrase) so that they would accept the treatment which would cure them. In other words, they needed to be made to really suffer, regardless of the fact that it’s extremely difficult to get treatment, and no treatment is 100% effective.

The suicide rate is just one measure of the harm that Burnham did. I haven’t committed suicide (yet), but he did damage my mental & physical health.

Because of my illness, the only real human contact I had was with my Care Co-ordinator.

Before Burnham, my wonderful Care Co-ordinator told me “Whatever your problems, we’re here to help in any way we can”. After Burnham, my new Care Co-ordinator essentially said ‘Any problems you’ve got are YOUR problems, and nothing at all to do with us. We’re not here to look after you’. It was almost as if she was deliberately trying to drive me to suicide. After about six months she actually gave me a Discharge Plan. This had a list of outstanding problems & how they were to be dealt with. For each problem it basically said ‘Patient cannot do X’; solution: patient WILL do X’!!!

Here are some practical examples to show the differences Burnham introduced.

Before Burnham, my excellent Care Coordinator helped me to regain the ability to do some simple tasks. The basic technique was, she would do it with me the first time; from then on she would expect me to do it on my own. This NEVER happened again after Burnham’s changes.

Before Burnham: I had a long period when I couldn’t sit down because all the chairs I had were broken. My psychiatrist said this was very bad for my legs, and if I didn’t sit down he was going to Section me under the Mental Health Act. My Care Coordinator asked me what it would take to fix a chair; told me to assemble everything I needed; & then helped me to fix it. I actually did almost all the work, but I couldn’t have done it without her support and encouragement. It was knowing she was on my side and I could count on her that enabled me to do it (although I did actually need another pair of hands for some things).

After Burnham: My house was burgled and vandalised, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Things of enormous sentimental importance were also stolen. My new Care Co-ordinator told me I had to deal with the police myself. Yet she knew very well that the reason I had developed mental illness in the first place was because I had suffered harassment and attacks, and the police had absolutely and completely refused to do anything at all about it. I even got an angry phone call from the sergeant at the local police station telling me to stop "harassing my staff”. I had only phoned three times in a period of two weeks, and two of those were to give additional information. In my final effort, I got my MP to write to the Chief Constable explaining all the circumstances & why I felt my life was in danger, and all I got was a standard ‘Fuck Off And Die’ letter. One Psychologist explained to me that it is actually very easy to make people mentally ill, and that what I had been through would cause mental illness in anyone. So of course, when my new Care Coordinator said I had to deal with the Police on my own, I felt I had nowhere left to turn to.

As a direct result of the policies which Burnham put in place, my OCD became markedly worse. I lost the ability to drive my car and also became unable to use my PC. (I’m not using my own PC to write this). As a former IT professional this was a serious deterioration. I also became unable to speak to people, use the phone, write letters, and for a long time I couldn’t use email. I’ve lost the ability to perform many simple tasks, and as time goes on I lose the ability to do even more. Does anyone seriously think this was ‘encouraging me to be independent’?

Two years ago I was treated at the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit (ADRU) at the Bethlam Royal Hospital. Their most experienced therapist told me that I was so ill that I couldn’t even look after myself & that I should be in full time residential care. However, she said “all the places that used to give that sort of care have been closed down to save money”. The next year my CMHT called me to a special meeting, where they told me: “we agree, you can’t look after yourself, but we can’t look after you either”. They recently discharged me. I am being left to suffer & die because there is no care for some one like me. When I was at the ADRU I met other people in a similar or worse situation.

I have exposed asbestos in my roof; my central heating doesn’t work; I have broken windows & badly fitting doors, so when the wind blows it whistles through my house. In addition I can’t wear a coat, jacket or anything other than a thin, long sleeved shirt. When I go out during the freezing cold of winter I could easily die of hypothermia or a heart attack. My OCD forces me to sleep in a partly broken armchair which causes back pain & will probably leave me crippled in a few years. Worse, I’m a Type II diabetic. Before I developed OCD I followed a healthy diet & was once told my blood sugars were so low that “you wouldn’t even know you had diabetes”. Now about 70% of my calories come from sugar because it’s virtually impossible for me to eat healthily. I’ve become increasingly disfigured because of repeated skin infections, & I’ve lost several teeth. Once I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance & had to be given an emergency operation to save my life. All of this is was a result of my mental illness making it impossible for me to care for myself.

On 16/2/15 tell Radio 4’s You And Yours program did an item on mental health. The guy in charge of long-term mental illness at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said that they provide long term care packages for people who require it. I emailed NICE to ask about the care which would be appropriate for me. They replied:

“NICE has not yet been asked to produce guidance specifically on the topic you have requested. Topics for the NICE work programme are referred to NICE by the Department of Health, NHS England and other government organisations in line with the national priorities that they have established”.

So help isn’t provided to those who need it; only to those who are powerful enough to pressure some part of the government to provide it.

When the NHS was set up in 1948, it took over a vast network of for the treatment and care of around a quarter of a million mentally ill people. In Kent alone there were seven such institutions, with their own dedicated railway line to connect and supply them. My last Care Co-ordinator said that her workload is calculated on the basis that she visits patients once a month & talks to them for a few minutes to check that: they are taking they are medication; & that they’re not planning to kill themselves or anyone else. Once some one is discharged, not even that is done. We have gone from full time care for a quarter of a million people to “we spend a few minutes a month checking to see if you’re planning to kill anyone”.

If you think this only affects mentally ill people, you’re wrong. Blairite Burnham wants to run down physical health care in the same way. On 7th March 2015 he told the Health & social Care conference that under a Labour government, elderly people, and other vulnerable people with complex illnesses, would not be cared for by properly trained NHS staff. Instead they would be left to the mercy of low-paid, low skilled people, presumably working for whichever group puts in the lowest bid.

So do you think that Burnham is fit to run the Labour party? I don’t even think he’s fit to be a member.


1. The National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness Annual Report 2015: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales July 2015. University of Manchester.