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'There will be serious incidents - like deaths and homicides'
Insiders say Greater Manchester's mental health services are failing vulnerable patients, plus the rest of your weekly briefing
Dear Millers — today’s briefing leads with some concerning reporting on mental health services in Greater Manchester. Vulnerable patients are being put at risk because caseloads in the community are running far ahead of staffing levels, we’ve been told. More on that below.
We’re sending this briefing on Tuesday instead of Monday, and there will be a few other changes to our normal schedule in the next couple of weeks as we try to keep publishing while half the team are on holiday (Dani is celebrating her birthday in Donegal and Sophie is in Croatia somewhere). Expect one or two fewer editions from us until we get back to full strength.
Our interview on Radio 4’s You and Yours show has brought in dozens of new members in the past few days — welcome to you all. You can listen on BBC Sounds here. And please do share the link on your social media, or forward it to a friend (our Facebook post is here, Twitter here).
On Saturday we published a brilliant piece by the former editor of the Manchester Evening News, Michael Unger, who looked back on the day of the 1996 IRA Bomb. “This publication is consistently brilliant and often teaches me so much I didn’t know about the place I grew up,” tweeted leading football writer Adam Crafton. “If you care about Manchester I’d really recommend subscribing.”
This week we will try to bring members a little update from the Royal Exchange following our deep-dive report last week, which was described as “sad and compelling” by one reader (see the letters section at the bottom of this edition). We’ve also got a lovely piece about FC United of Manchester coming up too. Join up to get all our journalism and fund our growth.
This week’s weather
Our local weather man Martin Miles is forecasting a brighter week for Greater Manchester: “It will actually turn warmer this week, perhaps up to 30°C locally if we fair well with sunshine.”
Today: ⛅️ Warm with spells of hazy sunshine. Dry. Max 21°C.
Wednesday: 🌤 Warm with sunny spells and light winds. Max 23°C.
Thursday: 🌤 Dry & warm with lots of sunshine. Max 25°C.
Friday: 🌤 Hot & humid with sunny spells, possible shower. Max 28-30°C.
Weekend: Cooler and unsettled.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook. Daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: A mental health system under serious strain
Top line: Staff shortages and lack of NHS funding are leaving some of Greater Manchester’s most vulnerable mental health patients are at risk and going months without treatment, according to staff who have spoken to The Mill. Patients suffering from acute illnesses like schizophrenia in Greater Manchester are waiting months to be seen and basic national guidelines are not being hit as community services come under extreme strain.
Inside sources have told us:
Staff don’t have the time to properly monitor their patients’ antipsychotic medication, despite some of the medicines having major side effects.
Some patients who need to be sectioned are being left in the community for weeks.
“There will be serious incidents as a result of these staffing issues — like deaths and homicides,” says one staff member.
Context: Manchester had the highest referral rate to psychological therapies in the country last year, which experts say is caused by a combination of poverty, the presence of a large number of students and first-generation immigrants in the city, and higher-than-average drug use. Frustrated staff have told us that national NHS funding is not taking account of this increased need, resulting in caseloads that far exceed what doctors, nurses and other staff can cope with.
Stretched: In one case we have examined, care co-ordinators — who act as a patient’s main point of contact in the community — were dealing with almost twice as many patients as the number recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE). “There are very specific NICE guidelines, and we are missing those quite badly,” one source told us.
The Mill has learned that national figures tracking the performance of community mental health teams and early intervention teams for conditions like psychosis are not picking up the problems, because patients who have one initial session with a psychologist are counted as having received therapy, when in fact they are supposed to have at least 8-12 sessions. One source estimates that in reality, only around 10% of patients in her area are getting a proper course of treatment.
“Most people under our services wait well over a year for psychological therapy and many people do not receive it at all,” a nurse told us.
The system: Mental health services in GM are operated separately from the acute trusts, and there are two main bodies:
Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, which has more than 6,400 staff and provides services in Bolton, Manchester, Salford, Trafford and Wigan. This is the trust where most of our reporting has focused.
Pennine Care NHS Trust, which operates in Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport and Tameside.
Overloaded community teams cause backlogs, with inpatient wards unable to discharge patients to them because they haven’t got the care provision. When we asked a source how long the waiting list can be, they said: “six months if you’re lucky, it can be years.” They added: “We are all under-resourced so we all end up shitting on each other”
One source describes having to give the same unwell patients mental health act assessments — the assessments made to decide whether someone should be sectioned — as many as four times, making the same recommendation that they’re detained each time.
The idea that they will be left in the community for weeks and weeks on end, without being able to get the admission that they need, is a major failing of them.
Pandemic pressure: People with very serious mental health issues tend to isolate themselves, which meant the lockdowns compounded their suffering and made them harder to reach, according to staff we have spoken to. Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, representing England’s 54 mental health trusts, told the Guardian last year:
Covid-19 has given rise to new need and exacerbated existing challenges, meaning that demand is significantly outstripping supply, which means that people need to wait longer and be more unwell before they are referred for treatment. The challenge now confronting mental health services is enormous.
We sent questions to Greater Manchester Health Trust about these issues, but have not heard back. If you can help with our reporting on mental health services, please email email@example.com.
Home of the week
This Georgian 4-bed property in Rusholme has had a modern refurbishment, but still retains its charming period features. It’s on the market for £595,000.
Your Mill news briefing
Manchester Museum, like many cultural organisations around the country, is trying to work out which bits of its massive collection might need to be repatriated to the countries where objects came from. Earlier this month, a group of visitors from an ancestrally indigenous “First Nations” group pointed out one item in the museum’s collection that they found “deeply upsetting” according to the museum’s director Esme Ward, who gave a fascinating interview to our podcast this weekend about this topic. On the same visit, the group thanked curators for looking after their collections, highlighting the complexities involved in “decolonising” a museum with more than 4.5 million objects. Is Ward worried about being labelled “woke” for her stance on repatriations? Listen to the conversation for free on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
Protests were held in St Peter's Square on Sunday against government plans to deport refugees to Rwanda. It was one of a number of protests over the weekend, including one in Peckham, London where protesters blocked police from transporting a man arrested for immigration offences. The first deportation flight is due to take off today — although legal challenges have whittled down the number of deportees considerably, with some leaks saying it might be close to single figures. Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, has described the flight as a “moral low”.
Martin Hibbert, a survivor of the Manchester Arena bombing, has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in a wheelchair. Martin used an adapted wheelchair and was supported by friends, medical staff and local guides. On reaching the summit over the weekend, he said: “Disabled people can literally do anything they want to do. With the right help and support, they can do anything. They can climb Mount Kilimanjaro." Martin's climb aims to raise £1m for the Spinal Injuries Association and you can donate here.
A 44-year-old has been charged with the murder of 15-year-old Jakub Szymanski, who was found with serious injuries after being stabbed at his home in Miles Platting. Suleman Altaf will appear at Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court, and has also been charged with the attempted murder of Jakub's mother, Katarzyna, who remains in hospital.
Last Friday, University of Manchester students posed questions on foreign policy, NATO and western sanctions to Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The live Q&A session was so swamped with students that a second location had to be secured to meet demand.
We’ve gotten our first glimpse of the new and improved Albert Square, now that it has been reopened up to the Gladstone statue.
☕ Want to chat?
As journalists, it’s important that we meet the people and communities we serve and write about. If you have a story or some information you’d like to share in confidence, do come into our office on St Ann’s Square for a cup of tea. You can find us at:
The Mill, 537 Royal Exchange, Old Bank Street, Manchester, M2 7DH. We are on the fifth floor.
If the city centre’s too far for a visit, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or send tip-offs to the address above. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with sensitivity.
A ‘significant investment’ in local connectivity
This week’s briefing is sponsored by independent broadband provider Brsk, whose lightning-fast full-fibre service is now live in Greater Manchester. The first families to get Brsk’s rapid home internet are in Portwood, Stockport and rollout is continuing in Didsbury, Chorlton, Fallowfield, Hulme, Rusholme, Sale, Timperley, Stockport and Cheadle and a list of other nearby neighbourhoods. John Steward, Digital Infrastructure Lead at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, has welcomed Brsk’s “significant investment” in the city region and says it is “great to see communities in South Manchester being supported with next generation connectivity”. Prices start from £25 a month — just click here to find out more and register your interest, or call 0330 0886947.
If you want to sponsor a future Monday briefing — to support The Mill and get the word out about your organisation, company or event — please email email@example.com. It costs just £350 per newsletter.
Our favourite reads
What Iraq taught me about identity, community, war and peace — The Economist
Longtime Miller and foreign affairs journalist Adnan Sarwar writes: “Racism emerged from the desperation. When I was growing up in Burnley, some days as soon as school let out I’d run as fast as I could, for miles, to avoid getting beaten up. Sometimes they caught me and kicked my head in.” The ex-soldier and documentary filmmaker writes about identity as a young Pakistani boy growing up in the UK, and the torsion that involved: “I wasn’t brave enough to be a Pakistani back then so I chose British. I chose it so much, that I packed away my Pakistani identity and put on a British Army uniform.”
Ray Hill obituary — The Times
The fascinating story of a fascist turned anti-fascist informant. Ray Hill was born in Greater Manchester and grew up a “habitual brawler”, regularly caned at Stamford secondary school in Ashton-under-Lyne. He joined the army and moved to Leicester after three year’s service. It was during an influx of Asian immigrants that Hill first joined the Anti-Immigration Society, blaming them for his feelings of inadequacy as a breadwinner — “in my own mind, racial prejudice restored my standing as head of my family” — he rose in the ranks of the British Far-Right, and would eventually work to undo them, working as a mole for the anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight.
The transformation of Manchester’s Curry Mile — Hyphen Magazine
Another great piece about Manchester’s famed Curry Mile. Tawseef Khan writes:
“Competition was fierce and waiters stood on the streets touting for trade. With its neon signs and raucous customers, Wilmslow Road had a gaudy, end-of-pier feel. At weekends, queues formed outside the most popular establishments. Most stayed open until 4am, serving mostly white diners who began or ended their nights by ‘going for an Indian’.”
Inside Manchester Camerata as the orchestra turns 50 — Salt Magazine
We liked this piece by our former intern Tom Taylor, which covers how orchestras like Manchester Camerata are looking to broaden their community presence. “A group of care home residents take up their places in a circle in the living room. In the centre is a table with percussion instruments: bells, shakers, little drums, big drums. A music therapist joins them, playing a cheerful tune on the keyboard that addresses each resident by name.”
Our to do list
✍ Inspiration from Centuries Ago is a creative writing workshop held at the Portico Library. Led by Dr Shahireh Sharif, the workshop will use illustrations, pictures and historical books from 200 years ago as prompts and inspiration. Starts at 2.30pm. Book here.
🎉 Salford Rediscovered, a citywide event celebrating Salford’s green spaces, was inspired by the launch of RHS Bridgewater last May. There will be music, films, tours, performances and street food. Starts 4pm. Book here.
🍻 The Adelphi Lad’s Club is set to re-open this Friday as a bar, kitchen and events space. There will be a program of DJs playing all weekend, with a food offering to be headed up by Tokyo Ramen and District — the latter a “new-wave Thai” concept we tried and, er, didn’t love.
🗣The second TEDxUniversityOfSalford event is this Saturday. The theme is rejuvenation, “borne out of the desire to send out positive messages after all the current negativities and after the pandemic”. You can see the speaker line-up here and register here.
🐝 It’s Manchester Day this Sunday, and there will be a parade setting off from Beetham Tower at 1pm and weaving its way through the city. Artworks will include a gondola made from scrap metal, a train powered by pedal power and the bridges of Castlefield re-imagined as gardens in the sky.
Letters to the editor
This is such a sad and compelling article (‘Brutal layoffs and a cancelled show — inside the Royal Exchange's summer of discontent’). But it’s worth noting that those of us who want to watch established classics, and want to continue to love the Exchange, if it’ll let us, can book to see The Glass Menagerie — on for about a month from 2/9. And Tennessee Williams is never middle of the road! John Tucker
Joshi Herrmann’s thorough & evenhanded piece does indeed train lights on a theatre in post-pandemic stress. The Royal Exchange is not alone. Turning again to Maxine Peake & Sarah Frankhom might be taking the company closer to the problem than the solution. Live theatre in the present day needs all the energy & entrepreneurship of festivals & the likes (in this city) of Freight Island. If Hope Mill & 53Two theatres can maintain a vigorous stir, it must be clear to the board of the Royal Exchange that they are in danger of swilling a tide of good will down the drain. Phil Griffin