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Prime Minister visits Aldershot’s life-saving Safe Haven

Today (Monday, January 9), Aldershot’s Wellbeing Centre and Safe Haven were host to a very important visitor. Prime Minister Theresa May came to the Wellbeing Centre to find out more about the service following the Government’s announcement to transform mental health support across the country.

The Prime Minister announced the package of reforms to improve mental health support at every stage of a person’s life throughout society - including schools, workplaces and communities.. 

Mrs May said: “For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society. Changing this goes right to the heart of our humanity; to the heart of the kind of country we are, the attitudes we hold and the values we share.

 “I want us to employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society, and at every stage of life.”

Part of the measures to improve mental health support include funding to find alternatives to hospital to support people in the community. The Prime Minister recognised that seeing a GP or going to A&E may not always be the right intervention for many people with mental ill-health. The government has pledged to build on its £15m investment to provide and promote new models of community-based care such as crisis cafes and community clinics. The initial £15m investment led to 88 new places of safety being created and the government now plans to spend up to a further £15m to build on this success.

The Safe Haven at the Wellbeing Centre in Aldershot, is one such crisis café which has gone from strength to strength since it opened on March 31, 2014. The service, which provides out-of-hours support to people experiencing, or are on the verge of, mental health crisis, allows individuals to drop in without an appointment. The service was developed in line with what people told us they wanted and needed and they have been involved in its design and development. They can chat with other people in a similar situation to their own, to sit by themselves if they wish, in the knowledge that they are supported, or they can talk to the qualified mental health professionals staffing the service. The service was developed in line with the express wishes of mental health service users and they have been involved in its design and development.

The relaxed, informal and supportive nature of the service, backed up by a strong clinical support framework, has proved immeasurably valuable for many of the more vulnerable and troubled members of our communities. Since the Aldershot Safe Haven opened in 2014, the numbers of people using Accident and Emergency at the local acute hospital suffering a mental health crisis has remained the same – a direct contrast to the increasing demand experienced nationally. Many people have said they attended the Safe Haven as an alternative to visiting A&E while acute mental health admissions from the service’s catchment area fell by a third in the first three months after opening, helping people to receive the support they need as close to their home as possible.

Funded by NHS North East Hampshire and Farnham Clinical Commissioning Group and Hampshire County Council, the Aldershot Safe Haven (adults) is delivered by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, mcch and Catalyst - charities providing wellbeing support in Surrey and Hampshire.

Prime Minister Theresa May visited the café and talked with staff and people who have used the service. Many of whom have reported that the Safe Haven has stopped them from attending A&E when they have been experiencing a mental health crisis. Some even revealed that, for them, the support they have received from the Safe Haven has possibly saved their life.

The crisis café concept proved so popular in Aldershot that work began to roll it out across a number of locations in Surrey. As a result of the pioneering work of service users, charity workers, clinicians and commissioners to ensure the original pilot scheme succeeded, there are now six Safe Havens serving the people of North East Hampshire and Surrey. These can be found in Aldershot, Camberley, Epsom, Guildford, Redhill and Woking.

The Safe Haven model has also been duplicated for young people. In 2016, the Young Persons Safe Haven was launched in Aldershot. Through working with young people, the CCG, and its partner Just Wellbeing, opened a place for 10-17 years old to offer mental health crisis support. The Young Persons Safe Haven is proving to be a success, with more than 200 young people using the service since it opened in May 2016.

Dr Andy Whitfield, Clinical Chair at NHS North East Hampshire and Farnham Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We are honoured to have had Prime Minister Theresa May visit us and our partners here in Aldershot. This is truly testament to the fabulous work and results we have achieved for people of North East Hampshire and Surrey.

“The success of the Safe Haven is directly a result of asking our local population what mental health services they needed. People told us that they wanted a safe environment to access mental health support when they felt unwell. They needed a physical place to go, out of hours, when GP surgeries were closed and said preferably this would not be at hospital.

“From this feedback our Safe Haven was created. People who use the service are also involved in the day-to-day operation and planning of the café to ensure that it continues to meet local need.

“We are delighted that Prime Minister Theresa May has recognised the success of our service and plans to invest in more crisis cafes nationally.”

Andy Erskine, Director of Mental Health and Social Care at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: “It is fantastic news to hear that the government has pledged to invest an extra £15m in mental health crisis cafes like our Aldershot Safe Haven.

“We have received a huge amount of positive feedback from local residents, carers, and from GPs who have welcomed this safe and compassionate alternative to A&E. We believe that it is working in collaboration with individuals, carers and other organisations that has made the service such as success.

“Last year we helped set up five further Safe Havens across Surrey and initial research has shown that these services saw over 4,000 visits in seven months, generating an estimated £1.2m savings in A&E and psychiatric liaison services.

“Thousands of people in Surrey and NE Hants have already benefitted from this approach and we’re delighted this is now being supported by national policy to benefit people who are struggling to cope nationwide.”

The Leader of Hampshire County Council, Councillor Roy Perry, said “I am delighted that the Prime Minister chose to visit the Aldershot mental health wellbeing centre today to see, first hand, the pioneering work being undertaken in Hampshire to tackle the emotional, physical and practical consequences of poor mental health.

“The Prime Minister’s visit illustrates the confidence placed in the way Hampshire is working with its partners to tackle this important issue. The success of this centre is down to the innovative way we have worked together, and the ongoing involvement of those who use the service, who have directly influenced the way it is designed and operates.

“More widely, we are working on a wide range of initiatives to support adults, young people and children with mental health issues, including our recent decision to invest a further £6 million over the next five years to expand and develop the county’s network of community based mental health wellbeing centres, including the one in Aldershot.”

For more information the Safe Havens in Surrey and Aldershot can be found online at www.sabp.nhs.uk/services/mental-health/adult/safe-havens. Videos about the Young Persons and adults Safe Haven in Aldershot can also be found on the CCG’s YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGarm96g7rM3XuZZeqjzRYw

The Prime Minister’s visit took place at mcch’s Wellbeing Centre, the mental health hub for the Hart and Rushmoor area. The Wellbeing Centre provides a range of support groups such as anxiety and depression, healthy lifestyles and expressive arts. For more information visit www.mcch.org.uk

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