The number of households that North East councils prevented from becoming homeless has rocketed in parts of the region.
In South Tyneside the local authority stepped in on 3,208 occasions in the last 12 months, a 123% rise on the 1,437 figure for the previous year.
This works out at a rate of 47.07 per 1,000 households in the borough, almost five times the national average of 10.11.
Meanwhile, in the same period, Gateshead saw a 65% increase from 2,094 to 3,453, an average of 38.28 per 1,000 households.
Newcastle City Council numbers rose 23% from 3,673 to 4,529, which works at 37.89 per 1,000 households.
There was also a small rise in Northumberland and Durham, but falls in North Tyneside and Sunderland.
Figures released by the Department for Communities and Local Government show preventions and relief in England rose nationally on average 12% from 202,900 to 227,800 between 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Prevention includes things like resolving problems with housing benefit, advice on debt or rent and mortgage arrears, or mediating with families to stop family members being kicked out.
Relief is when a council has been unable to prevent homelessness but helps someone to secure accommodation, even though the local authority is under no statutory obligation to do so.
Coun Allan West, Lead Member for Housing and Transport on South Tyneside Council, said the figure revealed how a policy initiative it took last year was working.
He said: “In 2013, South Tyneside Council’s Place Committee undertook a Commission scrutinising how homelessness in the Borough was tackled and how well the Council was equipped to deal with future demand.
“This led to the development of our new homelessness strategy which made homeless prevention one of our key priorities.
“This is reflected in our updated allocations policy, which gives priority to people at risk of becoming homeless before their case becomes critical.
“We have introduced a Homelessness Forum with representation from key partners including landlords, Public Health and the third sector.
“The forum ensures a collaborative partnership approach to tackling homelessness, sharing good practice and maximising opportunities for early intervention and prevention for homeless households.
“The review established a post of ‘Homelessness Prevention Lead’ within the Council to continue to develop housing and support options for people at risk of homelessness.”
My life on the streets of Tyneside – by homeless man ‘Carl’
Graduate ‘Carl’ has been homeless, on and off, for 16 years now.
He came to the region from Berkshire to study politics and economics at Newcastle University.
By the time he graduated aged 23 with a 2:1, he was in a secure unit at St Nicholas’ Hospital where he was being treated for Bipolar Disorder.
“They let me out for the day for my graduation ceremony and that night when the other students were out having a drink celebrating I was back in the unit pumped up with drugs,” he said.
He describes himself as a ‘hand tapper’, someone who walks the streets asking for money, making anywhere between £25 and £100 a day.
“The beggars are the ones who put signs around their necks and wait for people to come to them,” he said.
Carl said at the moment he sleeps rough in a city centre car park. “It’s best to sleep somewhere with CCTV as it gives you a feeling of security that someone might see if you’re in trouble and help.”
Over the years he has ‘sofa surfed’ with friends, and stayed in hostels, but nowhere permanent for long.
The money he makes he spends on food, tobacco and drink.
“I don’t drink that much,” he says.
He was a heroin user for six to eight years but has been ‘clean’ since June.
Carl is currently taking heroin-substitute buprenorphine, its trade name is Subutex.
“It’s better than methadone, like Peaches Geldof was taking. You can take other drugs as well as Methadone but not with Subutex.
“You’re supposed to crush it and place it under your tongue. I crush it and snort it like snuff.”
However he added: “I’ll probably have a relapse soon.”
His condition means he’s hyperactive.
“I walk the streets all day. Sometimes I don’t sleep.
“It’s OK at the moment with the hot weather. When its cold you keep moving or you die of hypothermia.
“People in the North east are friendlier than down south so I don’t get much grief.”
He says he stays in touch with family down south. His father is the Governor at a primary school, his three sisters and brothers hold down full time jobs.
“Some of us are just different. I’ve had a few jobs but I’m just not reliable.
“Also, my specialism is international politics and economics. I can’t see many employers in that field offering me a job.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 July 2014
Health bosses have spent more than £1million paying for Sunderland patients to be treated at non-NHS hospitals.
Figures show that £1,003,390.51 was used to help just seven mental health patients receive treatment at private units, clinics or hospitals outside of the Wearside area.
Health leaders have defended the spend, claiming “bespoke” packages are occasionally needed to provide the best treatment to individuals.
But mental health charity bosses argue the paying for services reveals only further evidence the area is struggling to cope when it comes to providing care.
Dorothy Gardiner, project manager for Sunderland Mind, said: “Continued cuts to funding for mental health services are taking a significant toll on the quality and availability of services in our area.
“We are facing a large number of cutbacks in mental health provision here.
“Sending patients out of the area can also be expensive for carers and families. We would always want to provide care for people where they live.”
The £1million covers the 2013/14 period and was used to support the seven patients, which has since been reduced to six.
A spokesperson for Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group, who purchased the out-of-area services, said: “When providing care for mental health patients, people are reviewed individually and the most appropriate care/treatment package is put in place, according to their individual assessed needs.
“For each patient, we identify care and treatment needs and often look at bespoke packages in order to deliver this within our area.
“It is only as a last resort that we purchase care out of the Sunderland area.
“We then review the individual’s treatment regularly with the aim of returning the patient to the Sunderland area as soon as possible.”
The figures come amid concerns that mental health hospital services in the region are becoming increasingly squeezed.
Last month, mental health bosses revealed the number of beds for patients could be cut at Sunderland’s Cherry Knowle Hospital – with nursing jobs also set to go.
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust have said that two psychiatric intensive care units are set to be merged.
Cherry Knowle’s Dene ward and the Greentrees Ward at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle both have 14 beds, but a merger of the two is planned to create a single 14-bed facility at the new Hopewood Park in Ryhope, which is due to open this summer.
Also, as part of changes to the current inpatient care system, more services could be delivered in the community, meaning that about 90 beds across the trust’s Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead sites could be axed.
Earlier this week, concerns were raised that a lack of mental health beds is forcing patients to seek treatment in other NHS facilities up to hundreds of miles away.
The number of patients, nationally, travelling to seek emergency treatment has more than doubled in two years – from 1,301 people in 2011-12 to 3,024 in 2013-14.
Source – Sunderland Echo 10 May 2014
Scores of beds are set to be cut in a major overhaul of mental health services in the North East.
Radical changes will see the merger of two psychiatric intensive care units, a reduction of in-patient beds and the axing of 22 frontline nursing posts.
Fears have been raised over how the changes could affect some of the most vulnerable patients in the region.
But health officials at Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust insisted their Transforming Services Programme will improve quality of care for patients, while delivering efficient cost savings.
Patients and staff in the South of Tyne area are being affected by the proposals, and the trust says it has future plans to look at the way services are delivered North of Tyne.
Under the trust’s plans, two psychiatric intensive care units will merge into one. The services at Greentrees Ward at St Nicholas Hospital in Newcastle and the Dene at Cherry Knowle Hospital in Sunderland both have 14 beds.
It is proposed to merge those wards into a single 14-bed facility at a new hospital at Hopewood Park, Sunderland, which is due to open later this year.
Meanwhile, a overhaul of in-patient care will see more services delivered in the community, resulting in the reduction of about 90 beds across the trust’s South Tyneside, Gateshead and Sunderland sites.
Staff are currently going through a consultation process as it is proposed to reduce the number of nursing posts, across all staff banding levels, from 64 to 42.
Last night, union officials and MPs raised concerns that the move will hit those in need of mental health care.
Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said: “Mental health services should be protected. We are in the situation where mental health issues are getting more awareness and it’s not good to hear that services are being affected in the region.
“It is ludicrous if these changes are being made to save money, and patients will understandably be concerned at what the proposals mean for them. Mental health services are very much needed.”
Greg Canning, Royal College of Nursing Officer said: “This is one of a large number of areas where the trust is currently consulting on reducing the number of posts.
“To cut the number of nursing posts in psychiatric intensive care from 64 to 42 is a huge reduction, and we want to see evidence that this will mean that the service remains viable.
“Patient and staff safety must come first. I’m meeting with Gary O’Hare, the director of nursing at the trust, and I will be raising the matter with him as a matter of urgency.”
It is expected that the changes will come into force within the next two to three years.
A spokesman for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust said: “For some time now we have been working with staff, service users, carers and partner organisations to look at ways in which we can redesign our service around the needs of the people we look after. This has included a formal public consultation in South Tyneside which has now come to a close.
“We are currently consulting with our staff on a number of changes to the way we provide services both inside and outside hospitals.
“The aim of these changes is to ensure that we look after people in the right environment for them, avoiding unnecessary hospital admissions. We are also working closely with our trade unions to ensure that no one loses their job through this process.”
As many as one in four people suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives.
Earlier this year, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched the Government’s mental health action plan, setting out priorities for change in mental health care and support.
He said patients will have a choice of where to be treated and a right to minimum waiting times.
Source – Newcastle Journal 11 April 2014