Proposals to close North Devon’s link centres for people with complex mental health issues have been withdrawn to allow for further consultation with users, writes Alison Stephenson.

To cut costs, Devon County wants to integrate mental health services in North Devon to be “more in line with the national focus” but in Bideford, one of three link centre locations, some residents are concerned it will lead to more hospital admissions and greater costs to the health service.

Torridge District Councillor for Bideford East Cllr Jamies Craigie (Independent), along with clients of the Bideford Link Centre, challenged the initial consultation as they said it didn’t extend to people who used the services before covid or those seeking after care after coming out of hospital.

Cllr Craigie is pleased everyone will now have an opportunity to put their views. The county council will come back with revised proposals for Bideford, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe link centres and further consultation later in the year.

“It is only fair that everyone is consulted, as the numbers that attend now are half the number pre-covid as the activities at Bideford have been scaled down,” said Cllr Craigie. “We feel the figures will show the case for keeping our centres open and there will be no manipulation of figures giving the county council a fig leaf for closure.”

Torridge District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee heard earlier this week that the centre in Bideford, which has traditionally provided therapy as well as well-being and creative activities, had not reopened all services in 2021 despite pleas to Devon County Council.

Users said the centre had worked successfully for 30 years keeping people with a range of moderate-to-severe mental health problems safe, but it has been scaled back to a three times a week drop-in centre.

Cllr Craigie said: “The link centre provides a good service in a building which is ideal for its purpose as we don’t have any community centres in the town. People are more in need than ever since the pandemic where they became isolated and separated from others. And lots are struggling financially which is one of the many causes of stress.

“When you consider that it costs £800 a day to keep a mental health patient in hospital and £250 to have a mental health assessment at the RD&E, it makes no sense to get rid of the link centre which is preventing people having to go into hospital or have additional care.”

Devon County Council says it is facing “huge financial pressure” and must get the best outcome for every penny spent, hence it is reviewing all areas of its work. The centres in Bideford and Ilfracombe will cost around £306,000 to maintain over the next five years, it says.

A spokesperson said: “There is a national focus on improving and developing mental health services that are much more integrated within in local communities than they are currently in North Devon.”

They continued: “Several reviews in North Devon found that many of the services delivered by the link service to support people with their mental wellbeing, such as craft clubs, coffee mornings and choir groups, help with form filling and IT support, can be delivered by the community and voluntary sector.”

The council said Holsworthy’s link service had moved to the town’s youth centre that offers a wide range of community support, including drop-in sessions that help reduce loneliness and isolation.

A spokesperson for the council said: “We are grateful for the input of all those who have contributed to the consultation so far, these responses will be considered in addition to the responses to the further consultation before decisions are made.”

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