This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and I, for one, fully back all efforts to profile a area of healthcare which is often referred to as the ‘Cinderella service’.
Mental illness affects everyone, young and old alike. I challenge anybody to say that they have not suffered depression, however mild, or stress in their lives and subsequently suffered a mental episode.
Of course, there are various degrees of mental illness, ranging from the mild to the extreme and where, to some it remains a taboo subject, more and more people are talking about it and recognising it for what it is – a prime example being the group of students I met recently at High Tunstall, who were working on a project to raise awareness of mental health issues amongst young people.
In these days of austerity and added pressure on individuals and families, demands placed on NHS mental health services are increasing, and yet it is an area of health care that remains chronically underfunded and under-resourced.
People are far too often not getting the level of care they need and, in the worst-case scenario, that can have catastrophic effects.
Over on the acute side of the NHS, it would be wrong of me not to recognise the achievements of doctors, nurses and support staff at North Tees A&E in meeting Government-set targets.
Since the closure of our own A&E, Hartlepool patients have depended on the unit at Stockton, so it’s good to know that the Trust has achieved a 97% success rate on dealing with attendees within a four-hour window.
It provides an interesting scenario, should old rumours about the security of its future re-emerge under NHS England’s Sustainability and Transformation plans, which have gone quiet, but have never gone away.
Similarly, it appears to have gone quiet on the proposed Health Village on land adjacent to the hospital.
Small wonder given the fact that Thirteen Housing Group had to retract its original plans and subsequently team up with Alice House Hospice to promote a plan that on the surface makes links with the hospital, supported living and social care facilities.
In reality, however, it has a fair way to go before they can convince Hartlepool health campaigners that the Health Village is and does, like the saying goes, exactly what it says on the tin. I have to admit, I am impressed with the patience and forthrightness of all those who have engaged with the proposals so far – their twin track approach of opposing in principal but also not disengaging is pragmatic and, should a build take place, I’m sure much of it will have been shaped by them.
However, that will not happen unless a full and meaningful programme of public engagement takes place. There is no doubt about it that the Naylor report has led the Government to allow the sale of hospital land.
There are those who challenge the legitimacy of North Tees and Hartlepool being able to do so under the existing Covenant and I applaud their tenacity, but if ultimately they are able to do so, then whatever follows must and should be in the interest of meeting health and social care needs.
Of course, meeting future health care needs depends on the availability of a skilled workforce capable of delivering it.
International Nurses’ Day took place at the weekend, with the Health Secretary paying tribute to the brilliant nurses who keep our NHS running.
I join Jeremy Hunt in praising our nurses, but would urge him to rethink the scrapping of student bursaries so that our NHS can be staffed properly. Right now, there is a shortage of GPs, doctors, nurses and paramedics; little wonder that our NHS is beginning to buckle under.