Cuts to NHS services in Derbyshire could lead to another Gosport, a health chief has claimed.
The chief executive of Healthwatch Derbyshire, a patient watchdog, said that the Gosport Hospital Inquiry revealed the importance of listening to patients and public feedback.
An investigation into the Hampshire hospital found that 450 patients died after doctors repeatedly gave dangerous levels of painkillers and that there was “a disregard for human life.”
The inquiry also found that a further 200 patients may have died as a result of similar issues – but this could not be confirmed due to missing records.
Karen Ritchie said that decommissioning Mental Health Together – a service which allows patients with mental health issues and their carers to give feedback on the quality of care and areas which require improvement – is the start of a slippery slope.
Five members of staff will lose their jobs later this summer as a result of the plans.
She said: “Gosport was an extreme case of authorities not listening to concerns and experiences but it brings into sharp focus the importance of the patient and public voice.
“There is no question that health and social care services are facing big challenges and that changes need to happen.
“However, the whole point of engagement and consultation is to create a safe space for legitimate debate over difficult issues, which is even more important when decisions are being made with financial restraint in mind.
“Important decisions which are driven by financial pressures need to take into account the views of patients and members of the public and fully explore the impact that changes might have on patient experience.
“This is precisely the role of Healthwatch Derbyshire, and in turn that of Mental Health Together.
“Although we understand the financial pressures facing the NHS, it is vital that public engagement and consultation is part of this process.
“It is vital that the public have a voice on issues that affect their lives and we will be pushing hard for this to be put in place as the wider picture emerges.”
As part of a bid to save £80 million, Derbyshire’s four Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have begun making funding reductions.
The four CCGS, North Derbyshire, Hardwick, Erewash and Southern Derbyshire, choose which services the NHS offers and as well as funding priorities across the county.
Ms Ritchie says that Mental Health Together, which is overseen by her organisation and was started last July, is the first casualty which heralds the start of “extensive cuts to services in the coming year”.
Dawn-Marie Robinson, team leader at Mental Health Together said: “This is devastating news – both for the team at MHT and for the many people in Derby and Derbyshire who have started to find their voice in the delivery of health and social care services.
“The service has only recently been put into place and we passionately believe that people with first-hand experience of mental health conditions and those who care for them are the people best qualified to help shape health and social care services to provide better care in the future.
“A report by the independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England ‘Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’ highlighted that, for far too long, people of all ages with mental health problems have been stigmatised and marginalised – all too often experiencing an NHS that treats their minds and bodies separately.
“Without MHT, these people will no longer have an important voice and this puts the future improvements of services very much in jeopardy.”
In a letter to Healthwatch Derbyshire, a spokesman for the four CCGs said that the decision to “discontinue” the service formed part of a wholesale review of discretionary and non-statutory services that are provided in the county.
This has already seen the announcement that around 40 charities and voluntary groups will have their funding cut off in the coming months – to save £1.1 million.
He wrote: “This decision is therefore not about the quality of the services provided by Healthwatch Derbyshire.
“Our overriding concern from a CCG perspective is that we fully explore any potential options from both service user and staff perspectives.
“Patient safety is paramount and we are already working with Healthwatch colleagues and others across the wider network to identify and mitigate any areas of risk that emerge from this process.”