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24/7 Mental Health Help Opening in Woking to Cope With Covid Stress

Published on: 5 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 5 Mar, 2021

Image: Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

A Surrey mental health crisis service is trialling 24/7 opening hours to help cope with the increase in anxiety during the pandemic.

Guildford, Woking, Epsom, Redhill and Aldershot have a Safe Haven service providing an alternative to the emergency department for adults experiencing a mental health crisis.

These are open every day from 6-11pm but until the end of March, just Woking’s will open all hours.

A spokesperson for Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (SABP) said: “This is a very exciting development of a service which has proved crucial, particularly through the pandemic.”

Whether a 24-hour service should be offered here and at the other four Safe Havens depends on a review after the Woking pilot.

That service accepts people from the whole of Surrey and gives access to an SABP mental health practitioner plus two trained Safe Haven aides.

There is also now a daily 6-11pm online service, for anyone who prefers not to leave their home due to coronavirus.

Stanley Masawi, manager of adult mental health services at SABP, said: “They may be in a vulnerable group or they might be shielding a person or they may just be generally very anxious about leaving their home or using public transport to get to a Safe Haven.

“The virtual Safe Haven service means we can still reach them and provide the support they need.”

SABP’s Professor Helen Rostill said more people now presenting in crisis were not previously known, or who had been stable. Safe Havens had 108 visits in August 2020, double the monthly average for 2019.

From May-October 2020, 80 per cent of people who presented a problem were classified as in crisis, compared to 37 per cent the year before.

Loneliness, health anxiety and the impact of Covid-19 on employment and household income have all played a part.

More than a quarter of visits between April and December 2020 were from people who had not used the service before.

An extension of the service’s hours was recommended by a Surrey County Council task group which researched mental health services in the county last year.

The group’s chair, Residents’ Association and Independent group leader Nick Darby, said he was “absolutely thrilled” to learn of the Woking trial.

“It’s very much welcome,” he said. “What we took from looking at the patient experience and speaking to the third sector and the police was that people aren’t confined to having a crisis at particular times of the day.

“If issues arose late at night they didn’t have anywhere else to go and ended up in A&E. It’s very sad. So it would be fantastic if this can be rolled out.”

Surrey Police attended 17,100 mental health incidents in the year up to September 2020, an increase of 23 per cent on the year before.

A police officer can use Section 136 to take someone to a place of safety if they are concerned they may have a mental disorder. The was used 530 times, up 28 per cent in the year to September 2020, but up 79 per cent for under-18s (50 incidents).

The 24/7 Woking Safe Haven pilot is running for six weeks from February 15 to March 31 at the York Road Project’s The Prop in Goldsworth Road.

To access the online service, go to www.sabp.nhs.uk/safehaven and scroll down to Virtual Safe Havens.

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