NHS England has refused to respond to calls for a halt to the use of a mental health scheme branded unethical, unlawful and unsafe by disabled activists, despite at least one NHS trust and a police force promising to review its use.
The StopSIM Coalition has warned that the Serenity Integrated Mentoring (SIM) system is being rolled out across NHS England, despite the lack of high-quality research into its impact on mental heath service-users.
Members of the coalition believe it puts people in severe mental distress at risk of being denied vital support.
Now, just days after the coalition launched its campaign, Surrey police and Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SBPFT) have both said they will examine its concerns.
But NHS England is so far refusing to act, or even to comment on the concerns.
Under the leadership of a police officer and a mental health professional, SIM puts 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.
There are concerns that this can involve withholding assessment and treatment, and gives police officers a key role in making clinical decisions when service-users are in crisis.
There was widespread concern across social media last week, after Disability News Service (DNS) reported on the concerns.
DNS reported how the organisation that supports SIM schemes – the High Intensity Network (HIN) – said it was already working with 23 of 57 mental health trusts in England.
Paul Jennings, HIN’s director and founder of SIM and himself a former police officer with experience of using mental health services, admitted last week that there was a need for an independent review of the programme and criticised the lack of support from NHS England.
Jennings, who runs the network with his wife, a former police member of staff, then asked: “Why is a care programme for the most traumatised patients in the NHS being run by two ex-cops from their spare room on the Isle of Wight?”
The coalition has launched a petition that calls for SIM’s rollout and delivery to be halted and for an independent review.
Its concerns and campaign have also been backed by the National Survivor User Network.
Jennings claims there are good reasons for putting pressure on service-users through “positive risk management”, which he said was a well-known principle in mental health care, and he said this involved a “well thought-through, well-intentioned, good balance of risk management”, with crisis plans always co-produced and signed off by the service-user.
He said last week: “All we are doing is providing high-quality information to police officers and paramedics so they can… make a higher-quality decision in the moment of distress.”
But this week, Surrey police said in a statement: “Surrey Police is aware of the recent ‘StopSIM’ campaign in relation to the rollout of the Serenity Integrated Mentoring (SIM) project.
“Together with all of our partners involved, we will look at the concerns raised within the campaign and how they relate to the Surrey High Intensity Partnership Programme (SHIPP) that we operate in Surrey.”
An SBPFT spokesperson said: “We’re aware of the StopSIM campaign and are considering how the group’s concerns relate to the way we’ve applied the SIM approach in Surrey.”
Despite repeated attempts to secure a response to the concerns from NHS England, it had not commented on the use of the scheme by 11.30am today (Thursday), nearly 13 days after it was first approached for a comment.
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…