SNP politicians in Dundee have been accused of “cynically” raising the prospect of a long-hoped-for mental health crisis centre in the city just months before voters head to the polls in May’s Holyrood election.
Health chiefs have long vowed to establish a new 24-hour facility in Dundee for people suffering from mental health crises but despite years of promises, including backing from first minister Nicola Sturgeon, none has ever materialised.
Councillor Ken Lynn, vice-chairman of the integration joint board on Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership, raised hopes again last week when he said it is time for the area to take a “new approach to mental health”.
He said planning for a new centre was ongoing last year but the coronavirus pandemic put a stall on things because “it wouldn’t have been practical to focus on an in-person service at the time”.
The renewed push comes amid a spate of suicides and mental health emergencies in Dundee and Tayside in recent weeks that have drawn fresh scrutiny to the way counselling and support is provided to those in need.
Mr Lynn said: “Now it’s clear that this can’t wait and, while I can’t give an exact timescale, we are looking to get things running as quickly as is practically possible.”
The move to establish a new crisis centre was also backed by Maryfield SNP councillor Lynne Short – who expressed her support for the proposal last year – and Dundee East MP Stewart Hosie, who said it was “evidently in itself a sensible idea”.
‘Absolutely nothing has happened’
But the party was accused of “disrespectful” tactics by North East MSP Jenny Marra, who first raised the issue in 2018 after Tayside’s most senior police officer said finding new ways to tackle the “huge” level of mental health demand in the region is the force’s greatest challenge.
Ms Marra said: “I was astonished to see Dundee SNP calling for a mental health crisis centre.
“I called for this over three years ago, attended many ‘summit’ meetings with the full team of local SNP politicians and was assured that Ken Lynn was taking this forward.
“Absolutely nothing has happened. The centre could have been open a year before Covid struck, as it would simply take an empty property in Dundee and a contract with a third sector mental health provider – like the crisis centre in Edinburgh.
“The fact that they raise this just before an election is cynical at best and thoroughly disrespectful to every family who has struggled with mental health and voted for the SNP in Dundee.”
Nicola Sturgeon said in May 2018 that she hoped NHS Tayside would look at opening a 24-hour crisis centre as part of its review into mental health services – four months after first telling MSPs that she backs the idea.
The health board had launched the independent review – the findings of which were damning – after the families of several local people who took their own lives attributed the deaths to poor care at the Carseview Centre in Dundee.
Speaking in February 2019, Mr Lynn insisted he was still “totally committed” to establishing a crisis centre and said he imagined this would be “more central, more in the community and staffed by mental health professionals”.
That pledge came after a commission set up to tackle poverty and deprivation in Dundee recommended the creation of a 24-hour drop-in service offering clinical, non-clinical, therapeutic and peer support.
Whatever it takes
At the time, Mr Lynn rejected any suggestion proposals had been “kicked into the long grass” and said he intended to speak to the chairwoman of the integration joint board, Trudy McLeay, about moving the project forward.
“I’m totally committed and willing to do whatever it takes to get the money for it, even if it means moving resources from other areas,” he said.
But two years later, and more than three years since the call was first made by Ms Marra, the plans do not appear to be any further forward.
I’m sorry that this has taken longer than we had hoped for, but mitigating circumstances; we honestly couldn’t move forward with a face-to-face service in the last year because of the pandemic.”
However, Mr Lynn said progress was being made, as he rejected claims that his recent comments were related to the election.
He said: “I’m sorry that this has taken longer than we had hoped for, but mitigating circumstances; we honestly couldn’t move forward with a face-to-face service in the last year because of the pandemic.
“We’ve had to close lots of facilities that have face-to-face services and are building-based, and that is really regrettable.
“We don’t want to just have another telephone helpline. It’s all about being a building-based, 24-hour service, with face-to-face contact.
“It’s something we are moving forward with and are talking about, and not in response to Jenny Marra, and not because there is an election coming about, but because, quite rightly, I was asking questions about this and they’ve responded.
“It’s certainly on the agenda. I’m not going to the press with it, trying to get votes, I can assure you.
“It’s something that Dundee needs and it’s something that Dundee will get. But it’s not about votes – it’s because we need it.”