The bedding crisis and privatisation of mental health

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), the provider of most mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk, has recently seen a drop of 25% in the number of mental health beds. Patients are being sent to facilities out of the area, including private hospitals, which meant the NSFT had to go £3.5m over budget last year. The overspend is now being funded by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) that arrange NHS expenditures in each area.

Many campaigners have expressed their anger, rightly stating that this amount of money could instead have been spent to improve community-based services. Although the figures for Norfolk and Suffolk appear to have rocketed, the same situation exists for the majority of trusts in the country. 60% of Trusts have cut the number of beds available for mental health patients. As one would expect, people are deeply affected by the unavailability of NHS beds since having to move away from their local services can be significantly distressful for a mentally ill person.

This isn’t news. We have been seeing, under the Conservatives in government, the privatisation of the health sector which is constantly being attacked. Increasingly, public funds are being absorbed into the private sector. Even though Theresa May had promised to tackle the stigma around mental health, there was no suggestion of any financial support for this in the Tory election manifesto. Doctors and nurses are still facing cuts and austerity measures which hinder the delivery of good services by the NHS as a whole.

All this is happening at a time when mental health issues are on the rise – perpetuated by the increasingly unstable socioeconomic conditions that people face.

Depression is affecting an increasing number of young people, who are constantly in and out of work due to unstable working conditions, low pay and zero hours contracts. The work they do have, requires carrying out dull tasks that alienate them from the process of production and therefore from themselves and others. More and more people have less access to affordable housing, education and in some cases even food, as is seen by the growth of food banks, these issues when paired with the decline of social services mean people are facing even greater anxiety. A recent study shows that “People with mental health conditions are one and a half times more likely to live in rented housing than the general population, with greater uncertainty about how long they can remain in their current home.” (The Guardian, 04/02/2016).

The system is therefore unable to cater for the problems it helped to create in the first place.

In a period of capitalist crisis, provisions for young people and the working class are set to suffer. They are being taken away from us because they are not seen as profitable in the eyes of the system. This complete disrespect of human life stems from the capitalism itself which puts making profit before people’s needs (in this case, the patients).

Such services should be there for us to use and not for private clinics to make a profit out of human suffering. Austerity measures on the many are being presented as a ‘necessary evil’, whilst on the other hand the rich few are being taken care of very well. People are being treated as objects and not as the subjects of the situation.

It is clear that we must break with this rotten system, fight against capitalism and determine ourselves how we want to live.

by Erin Maniatopoulou, Norwich Marxists