Mental health reforms: `We waste our time sorting out funding'

The Hostel Manager's Story
"I REALLY SEE red about this," said Mike Murphy. "We waste so much time trying to sort out funding that we could be using to care for people."

Mr Murphy is manager of a National Schizophrenia Fellowship assessment unit in Harrow - the sort of unit the Government wants to see more of. The unit cares for people released from secure units or psychiatric hospitals who need a half-way house before being returned to the community.

Thirteen staff look after six residents. Most are diagnosed schizophrenics, although some suffer from manic depression.

"We help them to avoid recurring breakdowns," says Mr Murphy. "Most people have a relatively short stay here - between one and three months. We look at their illness but we also help them with their relationships. We try to get to know them and get close to them."

During the day, the patients are free to do what they like, whether that is attending a day centre, doing a job or simply going out. There is no curfew and patients are trusted with their own medication.

With patients just out of secure care, Mr Murphy admits there have been violent incidents, but emphasises that they have been scarce. All the staff carry alarms to alert their colleagues if an assault is taking place. "It is a risky business and we are not complacent. We need to give people a sense of security. If someone feels unsafe that is when they are more likely to attack someone else."

Mr Murphy says the unit has not been used as a dumping ground for those who should really be in hospital "but we've felt there has been a danger that people will forget about them once they're here, because they know they're in safe hands. We don't allow that."

But his major problem is organising funding for the unit, which takes up a large percentage of his time. "It is absolutely ridiculous," he says. "If someone comes to us in a crisis, they have to pay out of income support. It works out at pounds 6.91 a night. At times of crisis the last thing people want to do is be worried about money - especially when you're dealing with people as deprived as the people we deal with."