Groups launch research report Time to Listen, Time to Act

Groups from across Northern Ireland gathered in Cookstown to mark the launch of the Mental Health Rights Campaign research report, Time to Listen, Time to Act, holding mental health services to account.  Highlights from the evening included speakers from Belfast Mental Health Rights Group, STEPS Group and SAM88 who spoke about key issues within the research including; follow up care for those leaving A&E (Card Before You Leave), having enough information about where to go to get help and how government involve people in the decisions they make about mental health services.

There were over 50 people from eight groups from both rural and urban areas across Northern Ireland at the event, all of whom had contributed to or facilitated the research. For the first time, the research brought together groups from different areas who all not only contributed to identifying the issues with mental health services, but also shared their views on what small changes could make things better for people.

One of the many inspirational comments from those who came along and participated in the event;

"Tonight I felt part of something worthwhile... and I am not alone"

The research report, entitled “Time to Listen; Time to Act. Holding mental health services to account”, has been undertaken by groups of service users and carers from urban and rural areas across Northern Ireland.

The research highlights systemic problems in the local mental health care system, in particular in GP and A&E settings, for both rural and urban mental health patients and their carers.

The research indicates that the majority of people in mental health distress, and their carers, believe they do not receive adequate information on where to go when in crisis (91%). Over half (51%) report high levels of dissatisfaction with the type of care they receive, and almost everyone taking part in the research did not feel involved in decisions about how mental health services are run (97 %).

The research has also identified that waiting times, in both A&E and GP settings, are a highly significant issue:

  • 66% of patients and carers surveyed reported that waiting times at A&E were either unsatisfactory or very unsatisfactory.
  • 44% of patients and carers surveyed were not satisfied with waiting times for accessing GP support.

In addition to seeking feedback on patient and carer experiences the research asked for suggestions in terms of practical solutions to identified issues. Grace Cassidy, a member of Belfast Mental Health Rights Group said, “We know that people are going to A&E in mental health crisis to seek help. We need to make sure that they get the help they need – and this means being seen in a reasonable time and having somewhere suitable and safe where they can wait until they get help.

“Almost 90 people across Northern Ireland, who have direct experience of mental health services, have contributed to this research. We have made some very practical solutions to improve the current practices.  For example; creating a ‘Quiet Room’ in A&E where someone in mental health crisis can wait before being seen by a doctor, or having an automatic double appointment when attending a GP with mental health issue.  We believe these simple measures are reasonable, achievable, and would make a real difference to vulnerable people across Northern Ireland. We are calling on the Minister for Health to meet with us to discuss how these small steps can be taken forward.”

In relation to services available through a GP, less than half of patients and carers surveyed were satisfied that their GP had offered them the most appropriate type of care. Worryingly, 73% of those prescribed medication by their GP were not offered any counselling despite a significant number of respondents indicating that they wished to have access to counselling. Many respondents also cited short appointment times as a barrier to having an open discussion with their GP about their mental health.

Lynda McEldowney, a member of S.T.E.P.S, which is a Draperstown based group which works to raise awareness of suicide and mental health issues, discusses, “In rural areas, most people with mental health concerns will go to their GP to seek help. It is critical that they have the time to talk to their doctor about how they are feeling and what their treatment will be.”

Follow up care from A&E was also identified as a highly significant area of concern with none of those respondents who required a follow up appointment receiving a “Card Before You Leave” appointment card, despite the rollout of the appointment card scheme in 2011. The ‘Card Before You Leave’ scheme requires that any patient discharged from A&E, without a full mental health assessment is given an appointment card with the date and time of their next appointment. It has been referred to by campaigners as a “lifeline” to keep vulnerable people linked into services.

You can view a full copy of the report here