Proposed changes to mental health services in Brighton and Hove prompted an outburst from a former carer who now sits as a councillor.
Dawn Barnett said that she had been left in tears as she tried to help a distressed constituent.
She raised the case of the man from her Hangleton and Knoll ward as mental health chiefs said that no beds would be lost in Hove until a clinical review group was satisfied.
Richard Ford and Samantha Allen appeared before the council’s Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee to update councillors about a proposal to reduce the number of beds in Brighton and Hove.
There are currently 95 NHS mental health beds – and some private ones – although most patients are treated in the community.
The city will have 19 fewer NHS beds if agreement is reached over the proposal from the trust that provides mental health, substance misuse and learning disability services for the area.
The Sussex Partnership executives said that the trust could maintain or improve the service that it offered by reducing the number of beds in Hove.
Members of the scrutiny committee again asked for more reassurances before accepting the case for closures.
And Councillor Barnett questioned whether the trust had enough community psychiatric nurses (CPNs) to cope with demand.
She raised the case of the distressed man from her ward on Wednesday (25 January) at Hove Town Hall.
Councillor Barnett said that the intelligent and articulate man clearly needed in-patient treatment but that she had had difficulty persuading the trust to admit him.
Eventually it agreed on condition that she accompany him to the nearest bed – in Eastbourne.
Richard Ford, executive director of strategic development at Sussex Partnership, said: “We’re well aware of the incident. January is always a very busy time of year for our services. This is always our most difficult time.”
The patient has since been moved closer to home and is still being treated.
Councillor Barnett said that he needed a greater level of help and support than he had been given as he was living in squalor.
She said: “The National Health has let him down. His carer should have reported back to the office.
“I got really upset and I was crying because I feel so sorry for the man. I’ve been going round to see him (in hospital) every day.”
The Conservative councillor believes that carers are often not allowed to spend enough time on each visit.
She said: “If the RSPCA had been inside his home and there was a dog or a cat in there, they would have taken it out. It’s as though he’s been missed and fallen through the system.”
And it was the system that was at fault, Councillor Barnett said. She praised the staff at Mill View and added that help on the home front had been promised for the patient in question.
Meanwhile, Sam Allen, a service director at the trust, said that the problem happened while refurbishment work was taking place at Mill View.
She said: “There was a spike in admissions. There has been an impact on a small number of patients who had to be admitted. They were admitted to beds outside Brighton and Hove.”
She assured councillors: “When anybody needs a bed, we will always provide one for them – preferably an NHS bed. We can use private sector capacity if we have to.”
Private beds were used rarely, councillors were told, because of factors such as cost and continuity of care.
She said that no beds would be withdrawn without the approval of a clinical review group chaired by Dr Becky Jarvis, a GP from St Peter’s Medical Centre in Oxford Street, Brighton. The group is due to meet for the first time this week.
Geraldine Hoban, chief operating officer of the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group, said that the aim was to phase the reduction in the number of mental health beds starting from April.
She said that she and her colleagues from Sussex Partnership would come back to the committee first though and report the conclusions of the clinical review group.
And Sam Allen said that the number of beds would be reduced only when the trust had enough capacity to care for patients in the community.
Pressed further, she said that in the past week four people from Brighton and Hove had been admitted as patients outside the city.
Robert Brown, from Brighton and Hove Link, an independent local watchdog, said that he had concerns about homeless people with mental health problems slipping through the net.
After the meeting Councillor Barnett said that she continued to have concerns about the trust’s capacity to care for people in the community.
And she was worried that fewer beds would mean a greater risk of people who needed in-patient treatment being turned away.
She said: “One in four people are going to have mental health problems. Care in the community is fine if they’ve got enough CPNs to deal with it. We need the beds at Mill View and they want to close them.”
Councillor Barnett, who worked as a carer and home help, has a meeting with trust officials next week.