MP worried about future of support centres
North Devon MP Selaine Saxby says Devon County Council is unlikely to find alternative provision for people with complex mental health needs in Ilfracombe when they consult again over the future of three support centres.
The Conservative-controlled county council has withdrawn proposals to close what they call ‘link centres’ in Barnstaple, Ilfracombe and Bideford to consultation again with users. It is expected to come back with revised proposals this autumn.
Campaigners have been fighting to save the centres since 2021 when a ‘redesign’ was first proposed. The cash-strapped county council claims similar services are available elsewhere locally but the cost-cutting measure has been slammed as “short-sighted and stupid” by residents who claim the move will lead to more hospitalisations.
Tory MP Ms Saxby, who visited the link centre in Ilfracombe recently with Devon County Council cabinet member for adult social care and health Cllr James McInnes, said the link centre is a unique lifeline for many people in Ilfracombe.
“There are no other services available and that is the challenge,” she said. “When people get to a certain level and their mental health problems become too complexm there is no support for them. They are not sick enough to go into hospital but they need more than drop in sessions and craft clubs.
“In Ilfracombe, where we have the highest unemployment and lowest healthy life expectancy in Devon, we need to make sure we are providing the best help, so no-one slips through the net. It’s a very tight-knit community where people wrap their arms around each other, but people further afield do not always appreciate what is going on there.
“I am pleased Devon County Council is doing a more thorough consultation. They will see that the link centre is particularly valuable because there are other bits of the service missing.”
The MP said Ilfracombe would have benefited from a family hub where young people, children and their families could go to get help and support but money had gone to the smaller unitary authorities like Torbay and Plymouth.
“The link centre is like a community where everyone is reliant on each other. There is clearly a very strong friendship between the users and it provides social interaction and structure. I could see more services there like a job centre for example. We should build on the great work that is being done there.
“We have so many poor statistics in Ilfracombe, it is time we started coming up with solutions so we can improve the health outcomes and opportunities for the people who live there.”
She said the worst thing about the cost-cutting process is the level of distress it had caused to people who use the service and who are already vulnerable, and the staff who are doing “a fantastic job.”
Campaigners criticise Devon County Council for basing their closure plans on usage figures for the link centres post-pandemic when they had “wound down the centres’ hours, sessions and reduced the ways people could get a referral.”
But the council and Devon Partnership NHS Trust, which runs the centres, says it is committed to supporting adults with mental health and wellbeing needs in the best way that they can.
“To do this well we must constantly review everything we do to make sure we are getting the best possible outcomes for people from the resources we have available and that this is as consistent as possible for everyone across the county,” said the council.
“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.
“That’s what has happened successfully in Holsworthy, where the link service moved to the town’s youth centre, a community-led centre that offers a wide range of community support, including drop-in sessions that help reduce loneliness and isolation.”
In Bideford, Torridge District Council has vowed to do all it can to help save the link centre from closure.
Councillors say the range of therapies, arts and crafts, and support sessions all together in one place means people only habve to tell their stories once.