Contribution to pilot Derry crisis facility branded ‘pitiful’

Western Health and Social Care Trust Headquarters in Derry. DER4414MC074
Western Health and Social Care Trust Headquarters in Derry. DER4414MC074

The Western Trust’s financial contribution towards a new pilot Crisis Intervention Service for Derry & Strabane has been branded “meagre” and “pitiful” by local councillors.

Councillors raised the issue while discussing the planned new council-led facility to cater for people who are facing a mental health crisis, including those at risk of suicide and self-harm.

A discussion on the new facility was brought out of confidential business at the July meeting of the Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Health and Community at the request of SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney.

The council devised the new service following a massive grass roots campaign demanding intervention services following a succession of tragedies across the city and district.

A council report detailed that the overall budget secured for the pilot, six months project stood at £50,000, with £40,000 from the council itself and £10,000 to be committed by the Western Trust.

Speaking at the meeting, Colr. Tierney raised concerns over the contribution made by the Western Trust.

“I don’t think it is enough to say the very least,” he said. “This is being done for many different reasons and one of them is to reduce pressure on Accident & Emergency. For the amount of money they are putting forward they are getting away quite lightly. This is a vitally important issue and it is vitally important we get this right from the outset.”

Colr. Tierney said he also did not believe that six months was long enough and raised concerns over aftercare for those who would receive help at the facility.

“Should we not be putting further pressure on the Department and the Trust?” he asked. “I think the contribution they are making is pitiful.”

Committee chair DUP Councillor Drew Thompson urged the committee to be careful they do not “open a can of worms,” but added that he did appreciate that there were concerns the Trust had come in with “an additional small amount of money.”

Colr. Tierney said that he wanted to see a report brought back on how the service will run and said the council should go back to those groups previously consulted with and tell them “we need extra money for this.”

Responding to the concerns raised, a spokesperson for the Western Health & Social Care Trust said yesterday: “The Western Trust is aware of a business case by Derry City and Strabane District Council to fund a pilot Crisis Intervention Centre for the city and district.

“The Trust will await the outcomes of the evaluation from the council’s pilot crisis intervention centre in due course.”

At the committee meeting, councillors were asked to approve the start of an open procurement process for a six month “low threshold responsive Community Crisis Intervention Service (CCIS).”

Multi-agency discussions have taken place to determine the most appropriate model which would “assist in reducing the incidence of self-harm and suicide, resulting in wide-ranging societal benefits,” councillors were told.

It was stated in an accompanying report from council officers: “It is anticipated that the pilot service will respond to individuals observed to be in distress and potentially vulnerable, and who would in all likelihood come to significant harm through self-harm and suicidal behaviour.

“It is proposed that the service should provide a timely, non-clinical community response to individuals experiencing social, emotional or situational crisis over the weekend period.”

This would include for people who are in distress and also under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Individuals of all ages can be brought to the central facility, the report states, “where they can be supported, receive comfort and individual staff will focus on de-escalation, risk assessment, stabilisation, reconnection e.g. with family/ support or onward referral.”

The committee was informed that such a service should help alleviate pressure on other agencies such as the PSNI, Altnagelvin’s Emergency Department, the statutory Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team, GP out of hours and Foyle Search and Rescue and would reduce the incidence of already distressed people being taken to Altnagevin’s Emergency wing or into police custody.

The proposed service would also be subject to on-going evaluation which the Ulster University’s Magee campus has agreed to undertake, the committee was told.

Independent Councillor Darren O’Reilly agreed that six months was not sufficient and urged caution over potential pitfulls in terms of linkage with other organisations. “I hope we do it right,” he said.

DUP Councillor Hilary McClintock said she shared some of the concerns but added: “This is a step in the right direction. Although six months is a very short period of time, it is a pilot and we have to start somewhere with this.”

Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly said he agreed with previous speakers that six months was not long enough and said £50,000 to run it was “meagre.”

“There are a lot of people in this area who are depending on this,” he said. “Recently there was a huge campaign for a detox centre and we have got this on the back of that. A vast amount of people were involved in that. We are meeting people at the coalface and I just wouldn’t want it to fail. If it does, for the lack of money or time, then it will have a huge effect on the community.”

Colr. Thompson said there were currently a lot of services out there and that this was “about bringing these services around the table,” he said.

Sinn Fein Councillor Sandra Duffy welcomed the report and said she was happy to see it going out for procurement at this stage.

Making reference to the efforts of formerSinn Fein Councillor and Mayor of Derry & Strabane, Elisha McCallion, who is now MP for Foyle, Colr. Duffy said: “A lot of people have been working on this for a long, long time including Elisha. We had hoped it would be up and running before now but unfortunately there were challenges we had to face.”

Colr. Duffy added that she too was disappointed that more statutory agencies were not buying into it, and said that hopefully they would come onboard.

“They are going to be vital for the overall success of the service,” she said, adding: “We would have prefered to see a longer periods of time for the pilot but the money is what it is and that is where we are. The city has been crying out for this for a long time.”

A council officer said that a number of statutory agencies have been giving their expertise and advice into the project to date.