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  • Writer's pictureKemiALondoner

Many pills to swallow

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

Last week something dreadful happened.


Benefit reassessments happen when the DWP decide that a persons circumstances have changed and so they need to re look at the benefits such as employment allowance, disability, Personal independence payments. Most of these benefits give access to other benefits such as Council tax reduction and housing benefit. For a lot of people this is their only income and a reduction in one area can adversely affect thier budget. They have to make the choice between paying thier rent, council tax, fuel or food. When one of these gives they are either put into debt or hunger.

I got a phone call last week from one of my volunteers. ‘I need your help’ she said ‘[Sarah] has come to the community meal saying she's going to take an overdose. I don’t know what to do?’.

I was informed that she’d turned up at the meal with a bag full of assorted pills and declared that she was going to take them that afternoon. The canteens operate for 3 hours, once a week. The team do not have capacity or the specialist knowledge to support people affected by mental ill health.

In the beginning they worked alongside the Service users Network, which provided therapists to support people with personality disorder. This was helpful when people turned up distressed because there were psychotherapists on hand to provide support. It was NHs and like most things that work well, it has been cancelled at this site. The people still arrive with needs, but we are not equipped to provide anything other than food and kind words.

I asked if they had called the ambulance and was informed that emergency services had already told them they wouldn’t come out, because it wasn’t an emergency.

It was my day off, but Sarah has been suffering with multiple medical and affected by mental ill health for many, many years and this was an emergency.

Almost at the meeting point I called Wandsworth Council main line. I was directed through a maze of many automated messages I finally spoke to a real person. Which department deals with a potential suicide? It seemed that no one could tell me. In this case we would need to call 999 and hope for an ambulance to arrive, then they would send her to A&E and then on to Springfield, if she met the threshold. I wasn’t sure this was the best use of an ambulances time and resources.

I met up with Sarah and the wonderful volunteer at the same time that the ambulance arrived. They took some time to complete their assessment and then came to the same conclusion, Sarah needs a therapist. But where could we signpost her to at 5pm on a Friday night. Sarah was going to have to go to A and E and the process as said before.

I asked Sarah what had driven her to this point. She had had a benefits reassessment and as result her benefits had been stopped and she was deemed fit for work. The letter was dated 2 weeks ago and as her housing benefit was also stopped, she was already in debt. ‘I just don’t know what I will do. I can barely stand. I can’t face tomorrow”

999, what’s your emergency? Austerity

[Sarah is okay by the way.]


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