This is where people suffering a severe mental health crisis will be sent to in Doncaster in future

You’re at the end of your tether. You are feeling suicidal. Where do you go?

By David Kessen
Friday, 27th December 2019, 11:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 8th January 2020, 10:14 am

The local A&E department, where stressed patients and stressed health staff may mingle during a wait of up to four hours?

Not in Doncaster, after the creation of a pioneering scheme to provide a safe place for those suffering a mental health crisis. It is designed to steer them well away from the emergency department, and into a place staffed by volunteers who are well placed to help them.

The borough’s new Safe Space, as it is being called, in Intake, has just been launched as a joint scheme between NHS Doncaster CCG, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust (RDaSH), People Focused Group (PFG), Mind and Open Minds.

Staff and Volunteers at the Safe Space in Intake, Doncaster, which is designed to help people who are suffering a mental health crisis

After a three month pilot scheme in 2018, the project is going full time for the next two years.

Accessed through a single point of access phone line, the service uses peer and voluntary support to provide initial help, and then close assistance in the following days and weeks. It will not be for people who are drunk or on drugs at the time.

A team of 25 volunteers will work at the centre, which runs from 4.30pm until 9pm every day of the week. They are in place and have already started work. Their first referrals came on the first night that the scheme started running.

All the peer volunteers at the centre have suffered mental health problems in the past. They have all gone through problems that organisers feel help them to relate to those who are referred to the new service.

Ambulances parked outside Doncaster Royal Infirmary's emergency department

Volunteer Glyn Butcher, a member of the People Focused Group, which is providing many of the volunteers, understands the issues. He has described himself earlier in his life as wishing he was dead and moving from one addiction to another and not knowing any wellness tools. He has changed his life through the PFG, which has help him build friendships and support and a sense of purpose, that he did not feel he got through traditional mental health treatment and services.

“We had a lot of good feedback after the pilot scheme,” he said. “It diverted people from A&E. They came to us because they were not well enough to go home but were not unwell enough to be in hospital. There are people with problems like anxiety and depression through debt, or who had been turned away by other services. Relationships may have broken down, or they have have social problems. People may come with suicidal feelings.”

Karen Senior is another member of the PFG, and is the lead for Safe Space. While she is with the Free Press the phone rings as she receives a referral.

All cases are confidential. But she confirmed that in the first night that the new centre was running, it did help two people who were sent to them for assistance.

She said: “People phone the single point of contact number, and if we think this is where they should be, they come to us. We think it works well.

“There is a lot of listening going on. They can have some food and a cuppa. Some don’t want to talk – they may prefer to watch television or play a video game.

“But we will also draw up a plan about how they’re going to get through the next day and what they are going to do that night. Some people may not be able to think past that.

“We ran the pilot scheme in the town centre last year. But this is the first scheme in the country to be peer led like this, by people who have had mental health problems themselves. That is one of the reasons why NHS England have funded it.”

Karen herself has suffered from bipolar disorder. She has also worked in health and social care for several years, and has been with the People Focused Group for many years. “If I get poorly, there is support for me,” she said.

The PFG group also has a 24-hour social media page for peope who are struggling.

Social worker Stuart Marshall will make follow-up visits to anyone who has been referred to the Safe Space the following day.

Stuart is a paid worker, and if there is more work that can be done for an individual, he will help them. A list is left for him, along with an explanation of the support plan and what sort of work he could be doing to help.

It might involve another agency, or direct help in something like filling in benefit forms. Volunteers at the Hill Top Centre in Edlington will help in some of this work.

Stuart said: “We don’t signpost people – we will take them somewhere for support, not just give them a leaflet. Someone will go with them.”

Glyn Butcher added: “We have 25 peers who have signed up and been police-checked. We’ll match a member and a peer supporter. The most important thing to say about Safe Space is it’s about what you can do, not what you can’t do.

“I think this is the greatest thing that has been done in mental health services in my lifetime, speaking as someone who has been in mental health services for 35 years. This is revolutionary.”

Helen Mason, managing director of Open Minds, which provides a counselling service, said people may have to challenge destructive behaviour, but by offering alternatives, not confrontation.

She added: “We’re really excited to be part of the evolving mental health services for the people of Doncaster. This work has been entirely co-produced with people at the very heart of what we have designed. It’s our hope that everyone experiencing mental health problems will get the support they need at the right time in the right way.”

Stephen Emmerson, head of strategy and delivery at NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “The overall purpose of this investment to mental health services across Doncaster is to provide alternative support for those presenting in crisis or consistently at inappropriate services with mental health problems and emotional distress.

“The aim is to deliver or make accessible positive asset-based services and activity that maximise independence health and wellbeing using a collaborative approach through areas of support.

“Through new co-produced and interconnected services that we are creating, people will receive support to de-escalate crises, assess personal challenges and develop plans to address those challenges making effective connections to support implementation for effective longer-term recovery.”

Paula Thompson, RDaSH service manager for the Single of Point of Access Team, said: “When people are experiencing a mental health crisis it is important that they have a calm and safe environment in which to receive the support they need away from the busy emergency department.”

Alyson Scott, chief executive of Doncaster Mind said: “Quick access to appropriate services is essential for people struggling with mental ill-health. This partnership offers an opportunity to stop people escalating into crisis and support to continue to stay well.”

> Access to ‘Safe Space’ is through the single point of contact line only. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the team on 01302 566999.