Public Law And Human Rights Lawyers Instructed By Service User To Issue Legal Challenge Into NHS Trust’s “Ongoing Failure” To Involve Public In Planning Process
A man has launched a High Court legal challenge against plans to redesign community mental health services across Greater Manchester area.
The Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust is in the process of changing its services across Bolton, Wigan, Salford, Trafford and Manchester, which it has dubbed the ‘Greater Manchester Community Mental Health Transformation.’
It’s understood that there were three phases, with the final one - implementation planning - to take place throughout March and April.
However, service users expressed their concerns saying the Trust failed to involve, or consult them, in the decision making, and were not invited to take part in, or made aware of, the co-design process which took place at events in January and February.
Craig Hamilton, 47, of Hulme, has been using mental health services for 25 years and says he is likely to require support from the services subject to redesign for the rest of his life.
With the support of the community campaign group CHARM (Communities for Holistic Accessible Rights based Mental Health), he has instructed expert public law and human rights lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate the lawfulness of the decision to proceed with the changes.
Craig’s legal team wrote to the Trust in February to ask it to review its process. At the time, the Trust asserted that ‘user engagement’ is a key consideration for the service design and future decision making. It also stated it was in the process of “making arrangements for future involvement and engagement of service users… to ensure they have appropriate opportunity to be involved in the service redesign.”
However, three months on, the position remains the same, with no or no meaningful involvement of service users to date. As a result, the lawyers have now launched an application for a judicial review in respect of the Trust’s ongoing failure to comply with its duty to involve the public in the planning process.
Expert Opinion“Mental health services across Greater Manchester provide vital support to thousands of people, many of whom have been left deeply disappointed by these proposals and how they believe the Trust failed to involve them in such an important process.
“Changes to the services are always an emotive issue. The first-hand account we’ve heard from Craig is deeply worrying. He believes they’ll have a significant impact on him and many others.
“We wrote to the Trust earlier this year but they’ve failed to do what we’ve asked of them. We’ve now applied for a judicial review, as we strongly believe the Trust is in clear breach of its statutory duty by not ensuring there is adequate public involvement in the changes.
“People with mental health issues are some of the most vulnerable in society and we should be doing our best to provide them with the support they need.” Gerard Devaney-Khodja, Public Law and Human Rights Trainee Lawyer
The changes are understood to have already resulted in many employees leaving and posts being left unallocated.
Meanwhile, service users fear that the proposed changes will also lead to removal of services for Craig and people with severe mental illness through the shift in funding from secondary mental health care services into primary care.
This would mean that Craig would be less able to access care or therapy when he needed it.
Craig said: “I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time and the community mental health services were a huge help for me but over the last few years the provision has gradually become worse.
“When I heard the Trust was planning a redesign, I was really worried, as were many other people who attempt to access mental health services in the area, particularly as there has been a lack of inclusion of service users in the process.
“It’s been a very distressing time, as we feel like we’re being totally disregarded. I’ve experienced difficulties with being able to access appropriate treatment and I want to ensure those same difficulties aren’t recreated in the new service.
“If the plans go ahead without the involvement of users, it could have a negative effect on a lot of vulnerable people, not just me. It’s morally and ethically disappointing. We really hoped we wouldn’t have to take it to court, but we’ve been left with no option. All we’re asking for is to be a part of the decision.”
A spokesperson for CHARM said: “Throughout this process there was a failure to involve service users prior to the Greater Manchester model being decided, with money being allocated and posts recruited before any consultation with the wider public. Most recently, the consultation that has been taking place has been a tick box exercise with crucial decisions regarding the allocation of funds having already been made and partially implemented. Meetings that did take place were presentations not consultations.”