County council cutbacks close mental health service (From Hampshire Chronicle

Mainstream job centres are set to replace the VAS, but service users have hit out against the cuts, claiming job centres will not provide the same care and support.

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The service is operated by Solent MIND, the local branch of Britains largest mental health charity with around 1,000 users per year across Hampshire.

They helpejobs health serviced me go through the process of mediation and putting in a grievance and putting evidence of bullying together.

Katrina Symmonds of Parchment Street first went to the VAS in late 2009 when she was being bullied at her former job at the city council.

Its daunting for anyone going back to work or trying to find work after having been ill. You arent popular with employers for all sorts of reasons and thats where the service really comes into its own, and if necessary can work with employers or agencies to support people.

Michelle Harden, a former teacher at Shepherd Down Special School in Compton, said: Ive been a service user for a number of years and found it really useful last year although Im not currently working. I was horrified when I received the letter saying the funding had been cut.

Michelle, 37, of Barton Farm, suffers from a long-term eating disorder and is unable to work. She added: Just because someone looks normal it doesnt mean they are alright and can cope with a job centre. The Solent Mind service knows how to approach things.

But the centres are to close at the end of January when their contract expires, after the county council announced their funding was to be scrapped in September, 27 staff redundant.

She added: Im a bit panicked about going to a job centre. The staff at the advisory service werent judgemental, they were flexible each person and what illness they had. At the job centre you are either marked as a layabout or having a screw loose.

Cllr Felicity Hindson, executive member for adult social care, said: We remain committed to securing high quality mental health services and recognise the importance of employment for mental well being. Our commissioners, from Hampshire County Council and NHS Hampshire, are working together to commission employment support that is more widely accessible and offers better value for money.

To transfer that into mainstream services is just crazy. The council doesnt recognise the importance of the service as its not just to help pay the mortgage but for self-esteem.

You just dont get the same level of care. And I feel a bit condemned by having to go there.

The Vocational Advisory Service (VAS) in Parchment Street aids people with mental health issues in finding and keeping jobs.

We are very concerned that without the opportunity to talk to us, peoples mental health will not improve.

I think the council is, like other local authorities, having to make difficult decisions but we would like these difficult decisions to be made in a spirit of partnership in the future.

A KEY service for the mentally ill in Winchester is to close at the end of January due to county council cutbacks.

Richard Barritt, chief executive of Solent MIND, said he was surprised at the councils decision.

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She said: I wouldnt have been able to do anything without them. I was being bullied at work and had a severe mental illness and no support from my manager or at home.

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Katrina, 28, was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder three years ago, and has found the service in Parchment Street very easy to deal with.

He said: The council started tendering again in June and made the decision to pull the funding in September so it came as a bolt out of the blue.

Our service is about building and rebuilding peoples confidence, helping with job applications and providing expertise and our staff have lots of expertise, especially around benefits whicCounty council cutbacks close mental health service (From Hampshire Chronicleh can be complex for people with mental health problems.

Hampshire County Council will save around 450,000 a year from the cuts, but it maintains it is committed to employment support for the mentally ill.

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