Groundbreaking York mental health service faced with the axe – after less than a year

The service offered one-to-one sessions. Photograph: iStock
4 Oct 2019 @ 8.31 am
| Health, News

A groundbreaking mental health service in York could be scrapped, leaving countless patients in limbo and its staff facing redundancy, YorkMix can reveal.

The Primary Care Mental Health Service was the first such service to be provided by GP surgeries in the city.

Launched last December it has seen a team of mental health specialists work at surgeries across York and in Elvington, Stamford Bridge, Strensall, Pocklington and Haxby.

The team offers people with mental health problems consultations and therapy. This has helped many people struggling with conditions including depression and anxiety – some patients who were signed off sick long-term responded so well to the treatment that they were able to return to work.

But out of the blue last week managers told the 10-strong team that the service was set to be axed due to funding difficulties – and that they all faced redundancy.

One insider told YorkMix: “People are upset and angry – and concerned for our patients.”

But there is now some hope. Since YorkMix raised this with the Vale of York CCG, they said they will look at ways to find funds to continue the service for a few months more at least.

One-to-one sessions

The team is employed by the Priory Medical Group, which runs several GP surgeries around York, on behalf of an organisation called Nimbuscare, an umbrella group for 13 GP practices.

It is comprised of mental health nurses, other mental health workers, social workers, trained counsellors and occupational therapists.

They assess people with mental health issues who aren’t in crisis but who suffer from depression, anxiety, stress and similar disorders.

The team then decides whether to refer the patient on for more intensive treatment or offer them one-to-one sessions in their GP surgery to help improve their condition.

Unlike appointments with a doctor, which are severely time constrained, these sessions give people time to talk.

The idea behind the scheme was to offer people early intervention and support before their mental health deteriorated further – at a much greater cost to them and, ultimately, the NHS. A source told us:

  • We feel strongly that the service is much-needed. We’ve had really good outcomes – people who have been off work for a long time who felt having the time to talk and learn new ways of coping enabled them to go back to work.

    And they have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds setting it up – what a waste of money if it comes to nothing.

‘What will happen to them?’

It was set up as a permanent additional service. “There was no indication until last week that there was any issues with funding.”

The NHS Vale of York Clinical Commission Group (CCG) originally funded the service – but stopped in March, although team members were unaware of this.

YorkMix understands that Nimbuscare took over in the hope that the CCG would resume funding. But the CCG said no more cash was available, so the plug is set to be pulled.

“It’s a real shame. We don’t understand how funding can work the way it does,” the insider said.

The service also takes the burden off GPs which has made it easier for all patients to get appointments.

“If this is cut, how are we going to finish off the work we’ve started?” the health worker asked. “We’ve got people waiting to see us – what will happen to them?”

‘We are looking at funding’

There is hope that the service may continue – for a few months at least. After being contacted by YorkMix the NHS Vale of York CCG issued this statement:

“In January 2019 the CCG invested non recurrent funds into the Primary Care Mental Health Team to enable local GP practices to offer assessments and a range of therapies that help people with mental health conditions.

“The CCG was disappointed to learn that staff employed within the service have received notice. In recognising that patients value and appreciate this service, the CCG is currently looking at opportunities to draw down on its other funding areas to help release money so practices can continue to provide services to some of the most vulnerable people in its community.

“Although being in a financially challenged health system, the CCG is fully committed to looking for ways to support the service until end of March 2020, and will make a further announcement week commencing 7 October 2019.”