NHS England is unlawfully blocking attempts to see reviews carried out across the country into the use of a mental health scheme that disabled campaigners have branded unethical, unlawful and unsafe.
The reviews were announced last spring following mounting concerns about the use of the Serenity Integrated Mentoring (SIM) system, and its rapid rollout across the NHS in England, despite the lack of quality research into its impact on mental heath service-users.
Concerted campaign pressure by the StopSIM coalition had led to NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, Tim Kendall, writing to mental health trusts to call on them to review their use of the scheme.
But although many of those reviews were completed by January this year, NHS England has so far ignored attempts by Disability News Service (DNS) to obtain them under freedom of information (FOI) laws.
The request was first submitted in January and, other than automatic acknowledgements to show the emails were received by the NHS England freedom of information team, there has been no response to three DNS emails over the last three months.
NHS England’s communications team had also failed to respond to requests to comment on the organisation’s apparently unlawful behaviour by 11am today (Thursday).
The StopSIM coalition has described SIM as an “unacceptable step backwards in disability justice” and says that it has the effect of criminalising mental distress.
It says that SIM and SIM-type schemes put pressure on users of mental health services – often those at high risk of suicide and self-harm – who have not committed a crime but are seen as “high intensity users” of emergency services.
Despite being at very high risk of self-harm or suicide, individuals under SIM can be prevented from accessing potentially life-saving treatment from services such as ambulance services, accident and emergency departments, mental health crisis services, community mental health teams and the police.
SIM also gives police officers a key role in making clinical decisions when service-users are in crisis, and – says the coalition – is “heavily reliant” on their “coercive” powers to enforce “behavioural management”.
The coalition says: “The focus of SIM is on reducing service demand… not the patients’ well-being or experience.
“Indeed, we believe this programme will have the effect of re-traumatising individuals.”
A StopSIM coalition spokesperson told DNS this week: “Over 63,000 members of the public have supported our campaign calling for reviews of the SIM model: the substance of the reviews are a matter of public interest.
“NHS England have informally confirmed receipt of the FOI with the coalition on a number of occasions, and told us that they are in the process of preparing the documents for release.
“We are disappointed and concerned that NHS England have not complied with their duties under the Freedom of Information Act.”
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