The Gibraltar Mental Welfare Society (GMWS) welcomes the recent expansion of services in mental health. The recruitment of a psychologist, based in Ocean Views, is a long overdue addition to the staff in said facility. This will provide essential therapeutic support to the service user and as such is excellent news. We also welcome the addition of an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) which means that there are now four instead of three professionals in this field of work. Once again, this expansion in the service should ensure enhanced support for the service user.
The recent statement by Minister Cortes on school counsellors is also most welcome. The Society has been pursuing this as an objective for a number of years now and is very pleased that the Government has decided to deliver on its 2011 manifesto commitment. We believe that this will significantly improve the early diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues in the early years, and will also support students experiencing temporary problems.
In a recent meeting with Minister Costa, a number of other important issues were discussed. A point which has been brought to the Society, by a number of service users, is that having to go through the normal channels at A&E when somebody is having a mental health crisis is totally inappropriate and exacerbates what is already a very difficult situation. We were very pleased to learn that the GHA are currently in the process of establishing a system where a mental health professional will be part of the A&E team. This will mean that in future an individual suffering from a mental health crisis will be assessed and supported much more effectively. We look forward to the implementation of this improved system as soon as possible.
The Society also suggested to the Minister that the role of Coaling Island-where the Community Mental Health Team is based- could be considerably enhanced. Apart from the fact that the inclusion of a receptionist would make the place much more user friendly, it was felt that this was the ideal place to provide information on all the related services available within the mental health facilities. The Society feels that people often don’t know who to turn to for specific advice and having pertinent leaflets could be very useful.
During the meeting the Society asked to be updated on the supported accommodation project. At the moment there are two rehabilitation flats, within Ocean Views, which have been designed to assist patients to achieve independent living. Aside from that there are two, two-bedroom flats in the community where service-users can move to when they considered ready for it. We were informed that there are further expansions in the service which will be reported on in the near future. The Society considers that these measures can prove invaluable in rehabilitating service users into the community. We look forward to hearing about further developments in this area.
We were assured that at the moment the GHA has its full complement of psychiatrists: 4.5. We were told that waiting times to see a psychologist have been reduced from three months to six weeks, and it was hoped that when the two additional psychologists are integrated into the system in January, that waiting times will be further reduced to four weeks. This is all very welcome news but we consider that in time further additions to the complement of psychiatrists and psychologists will be necessary. As we have said before, if as a society we get better at diagnosing mental health issues much earlier on, we need to offer the necessary support and treatment promptly and effectively. We will therefore need to continue to expand the service. In relation to this matter, the Society brought up the fact that service users often complain about not having ready access to counsellors/psychologists and about having to pay for these services privately, if they could afford it, or having to do without if they couldn’t. Minister Costa categorically stated that all those who require it should have access to these professionals within the GHA. We suggest that people who are having problems accessing this service should continue to demand it.
Because of time constraints, we were unable to discuss all the issues on the agenda but we hope to do this at a later date. One of these issues is supported employment and another is the financial difficulties facing those who cannot work as a result of mental health problems. We also intend to discuss matters relating to the new Mental Health Act and Lasting Powers of Attorney Act.
Overall, the GMWS is pleased to see that steps are being taken in the right direction; the Government is clearly responding to the needs of service users and the louder demands of the community for improved mental health provision. We will continue to work for measures which will provide a better quality of life for those living with mental health problems, and also for their carers.