Lifeworks was the last drop-in centre run by the “complex case service” left in the area, and provides support to adults with personality disorders, many of whom have self-harmed or attempted suicide.
Disabled activists who have been occupying the drop-in centre in Tenison Road, Cambridge, since 4 March say that closing it would only cause higher costs elsewhere in the NHS – in accident and emergency departments, the ambulance service, GP surgeries, and drug and alcohol services.
The centre is now being occupied 24-hours-a-day by anything from two to 15 service-users and their allies.
They say that Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group failed to consult with service-users before announcing the closure in March, as a contribution to the £6 million in cuts the trust has been told to make by the government.
Following the protests, the trust agreed to keep the centre open, at least in the short term, but transferred it to its Fulbourn Hospital site.
The protesters say that about 90 per cent of the service-users who use Lifeworks have now been told they will be referred back to their GPs, instead of receiving specialist support, although the trust disputes this figure.
Before the decision to close the service, the centre had been open two days a week, and offered one-to-one therapy, and crisis management if needed.
Ann Robinson, one of the service-users now occupying the centre, said: “We have now been told we have to go back to using the emergency services.
“For us it is life and death. When you are in crisis you are on a knife-edge. They are there to keep you alive. If you chuck that away you are going to end up with fatalities.”
Jacqueline Kidd, another service-user, added: “Our GPs are up in arms because they don’t know how to deal with us.”
The trust has suggested they attend “alternative community groups” run by mental health charities, but those organisations have already told the campaigners that they do not have any space.
The trust has admitted that it “could have done more to engage with the users of Lifeworks” before announcing the closure, although it claims that “every service user was written to [in February] and all were seen individually and offered help in constructing a personal plan that took account of their needs and clinical state”.
It has now begun a new consultation process and claims that “all options remain open”, with its new recommendations set to be published next month.
A trust spokeswoman said: “We have been in talks with the people behind the occupation since it began.
“Their actions have meant we have had to relocate staff and other clinics, but our efforts to get them to vacate the building continue. We have now initiated a mediation process following expert advice.
“Our chief aim is to keep everyone involved safe and to deal with the issue in as non-confrontational and consensual way as possible in order to ensure their physical and psychological safety.”
The trust said that it needed to “justify the use of every penny we spend and make sure that we treat the largest possible number of people as effectively as possible”, but it also said that it was “committed to helping those who need it most” and was facing the “twin problem of increased demand and reduced resources”.
14 May 2014