Today Belfast Mental Health Rights Group (BMHRG) met with the Health and Social Care Board to express concern that a ‘lifeline’ appointment system is failing.

The Belfast Mental Health Rights Group (BMHRG)   a group of mental health patients, carers and families who have lost loved ones to suicide met with members of the Health and Social Care Board to raise their concerns about the implementation of the Card Before You Leave system.

Card Before You Leave provides vulnerable people at risk of suicide with a follow up appointment to keep them linked into services. BMHRG successfully campaigned for the appointment card system, which was then launched back in 2010.The Group’s concerns about the scheme were recently echoed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) in its Inquiry Report into Emergency Care. The NIHRC called for the consistent and immediate implementation of Card Before You Leave to be “an immediate task for the Health and Social Care Board’’.

Bobby Duffin, a member of BMHRG said:

“Belfast Mental Health Rights Group has always seen Card Before You Leave as a lifeline for those in mental health crisis which keeps them tied into services. We have worked very hard over the years with the Health and Social Care Board and others to ensure this important scheme is working for the most vulnerable. Experience from group members and evidence from surveys we have carried out have always pointed to problems with the system. And now we have seen from a Freedom of Information request that almost half of those in need of a follow up could not be reached”

Worryingly, BMHRG now has evidence from a freedom of information request that only a minority of people are actually receiving a fixed appointment (57 out of 874 people in Belfast Trust between 2014-15) with many people falling through the cracks completely (417 of the 874 deemed in need of a follow up, could not be contacted by telephone).

Bobby continued:

We are particularly concerned that despite meetings with the Health and Social Care Board on this issue, we seem to be no further on in addressing it. In our meetings with them, the Health Board has not been able to provide any solid evidence to contradict these concerns.  The upshot is that people end up not getting the help they need when they are in mental health crisis. The Human Rights Commission has stated that proper implementation of Card Before You Leave needs to be done ‘immediately’.  That’s why we now think this matter needs to be raised urgently and at the highest level of the HSC Board to see what more can be done.”

BMHRG say that other avenues to address their worries have been exhausted. Over the past two years group members met privately with officials as well as engaging with the Self Harm Working Group structure which is charged with the implementation of the scheme - but encountered difficulties in getting hard information about how the scheme is working. The information they required was finally obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Stephanie Green, Development Worker with PPR, who works with the group said;

"it is impacting some of the most vulnerable people in our society – people at risk of taking their own lives, the thought of these problems running on any further into the future is unacceptable. Unacceptable   for those receiving services, those who courageously campaigned for the change and also all the public sector staff, time and resources that have been put into this to-date – everyone deserves better."