Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/498/3030
Occupation at Kendal ward
FOLLOWING A huge public demonstration last year, campaigners in Kendal were delighted when the Primary Care Trust decided not to go ahead with the discriminatory closure of the only local mental health in-patient unit.
Local people, patient groups and staff felt a significant victory had been won for the community. They were reassured by the Trust's promises that the ward would be safe for the foreseeable future.
However, having been thwarted by the inconvenience of having to consult the public, the new Cumbria Partnership Trust announced on 18 July that the ward would close as of 27 July, due to spurious "safety concerns" which sounded more like excuses than valid reasons.
The Trust maintains this is a "temporary" closure, but gives no commitment to re-opening the ward. All staff believe this is a permanent arrangement. One angry local GP even bet £5,000 that the ward will remain closed permanently.
The Trust's arrogance in making such a decision without advance consultation with patient groups, ward staff or the public, is staggering. Staff and patients have been treated with utter contempt by the Trust. Staff have been threatened with disciplinary action should they speak to the press.
In protest at the ward's unjustified closure, a group of former staff, service users and their carers occupied the ward on 27 July and refused to leave until the Trust's Chief Executive in person explained the closure and gave reassurances about the future of local services.
The Deputy Director of Mental Health, Mr Fraser, met the group on the ward. The group demanded that the Trust suspends the ward's closure until those most likely to be affected were liaised with. The group asked for reassurance that closure was temporary and urged the Trust to provide evidence of its long-term commitment to mental health in-patient provision in Kendal.
Mr Fraser said there was no covert plan by the Trust to close the ward by stealth, but could make no commitment to re-opening it. He admitted that the closure could create difficulties for patients and would increase the number of enforced admissions to hospital under the Mental Health Act. Mr Fraser was heckled by some frustrated ward staff.
Dr Charles Batteson, Save our NHS Kendal town councillor, and himself a former patient on the ward said: "Mr Fraser has obviously been on a really good management course. But the lack of promises from the Trust is frustrating. We're all extremely angry. The many vulnerable people the Trust is supposed to serve deserve better. The fight will go on."
Andrew Billson-Page, Save our NHS Group leader, added: "I am delighted that, given limited time, we put together this protest. The Trust must listen to service users and their carers. We've also shown that there are people in our community willing to use whatever tactics necessary to reclaim their NHS."
In The Socialist 9 August 2007:
Committee for a Workers' International
Socialist Party events
Environment and socialism
Tales from the council chambers