SEVERAL SIC councillors have expressed misgivings about plans to find £200,000-worth of efficiencies in mental health services at a time when the community faces “very long waiting times” to access help.
Members of the policy and resources committee on Monday highlighted the target, contained in the 2018/19 budget, as part of a £20 million funding package going from the council to the Integration Joint Board (IJB).
The IJB, whose board includes members of the SIC and NHS Shetland, was set up to help integrate social care services provided by the two organisations.
Joint director of community health and social care Simon Bokor-Ingram told Shetland News that integrating health and care had “the potential to reduce duplication”.
Anouska Civico of mental health charity Mind Your Head described the news as “disheartening”.
North Mainland member Alastair Cooper said that, while he was not formally moving to remove the item from the budget, he did “have an issue”.
“In the last council, we struggled with the same problem of long waiting times for mental health services – I’m not aware that it’s changed all that radically,” Cooper said.
SIC deputy leader Steven Coutts said he shared Cooper’s concerns and would be “interested to hear what the thinking is there”.
North Isles councillor Ryan Thomson echoed his colleagues, describing the proposed reduction as “very, very concerning”.
In response, SIC finance chief Jonathan Belford said the local authority did not have “the full facts here in front of us” and that “reports will be required in order to understand not only the detail of what the proposal would be, but also the impact”.
Bokor-Ingram said: “As part of seeking efficiencies to help balance the 2018/19 budget, a target of £200,000 has been assigned to social care mental health, on the basis that integrating the health and care elements has the potential to reduce duplication and create a more responsive and efficient service for some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
“The work is underway and will in due course report to the Integration Joint Board and the council.”
Civico said it was “unclear” exactly what the cut would mean. Her service has received nearly 100 referrals since it launched in August, which “does show there is clearly a need within Shetland”.
“The people referred haven’t all met our criteria – some of them have a higher need – so if cutbacks are made, then where do we refer people if they need more input than we can offer?
“It just seems a shame, there’s been so much work done getting people to talk about it more openly, that we’re wanting physical health and mental health to have the same kind of emphasis, and then we hear a £200,000 cutback in mental health.
“Obviously that’s disheartening, but what the integration is going to look like, no one knows.”