A vital Community Crisis Intervention Service in the city will be briefly extended while permanent funding is sought, the Derry News can reveal.
In the past year over 100 people in varying degrees of crisis, including those at risk of suicide or self-harm, have been assisted by the de-escalation service.
The 12-month pilot run by leading social justice charity Extern was due to end in January 2020 but will now run until March.
A Derry City & Strabane District Council spokesperson told the Derry News that a service evaluation undertaken by the University of Ulster is due to complete shortly and will determine "the benefits and impact of the service along with the needs and resources required for future sustainability."
Service Co-ordinator, Joe Thompson, wholeheartedly believes the service run from the Holywell Trust building on Bishop Street has been life-saving: “I have no doubt that there are individuals who have come into us who may well have completed suicide if they had not had intervention at that time. I can say that hand on heart.
“What we offer is an alternative to A&E, a non-clinical approach.”
He acknowledged that when a clinical need arises individuals are referred on to an out-of-hours GP or A&E department.
There are however people who attend A&E who would be better served in a non-clinical setting where they can feel at ease and talk to someone.
A safety plan developed by Western Trust staff at Grangewood has been implemented by workers at the CCIS. People in crisis leave with a plan in place and, if necessary, are referred on to relevant support agencies.
A briefing paper prepared for the Stormont Assembly in January 2017 stated that many self-harming patients left hospital without a proper follow-up process in place. But the government collapsed in early 2017, with no opportunity for MLAs to debate the issue.
As well as the human cost, which is immeasurable, Mr Thompson believes the CCIS represents value for money.
There are costs associated with people visiting and leaving A&E departments due to suicidal ideation and self-harm, because these people are deemed to be at risk there is a need to generate a missing person’s report with the PSNI and if a police helicopter is required the cost rises further.
Mr Thompson said: “There are certainly savings, it cost £129k, there is no doubt it saved well in excess of that. It’s hard to count money that wasn’t spent but you can extrapolate based on statistics.”
When those in crisis contact the CCIS they can be seen within five minutes and are able to stay for hours. “We can have you in the room speaking to an individual, discreetly and in private. Within a couple of minutes you’re with a person who can offer you a cup of tea, a blanket, they have a comfortable seat unlike a hospital waiting room.
“And they are made to feel valued as an individual and know that we are there for them,” Mr Thompson explained.
In terms of long-term funding, he said the need has been proven in the council area, and that this particular model of intervention works. It is another example of a service being left in limbo without a health minister in place to make a decision.
“Conversations need to be had and we have to see where we can access funding. Without a functioning Executive it is going to be hard for any significant funding to be released.
“This project has proven to be a vital lifeline to the people of this city and wider council area. It would definitely be to the detriment of everybody here should we not be funded.
“The onus is now on people who make those decisions to talk to us and listen to how we’ve made a difference to the lives of people in this city. There are people still alive because there was a service there at 4am.
“People of this city deserve this service, we’ve proven we can deliver it and the rest is up to the people who hold the pound notes,” Mr Thompson concluded.
Knowledge gained in the past year has identified the opportunity to provide an enhanced service, Mr Thompson suggested, and that may require increased funding in future.
The long-awaited crisis intervention service commenced on January 3 of this year. It was a 12-month pilot service that cost £129k with Mr Thompson running it along with six part-time workers and a number of volunteers.
It provides a “safe space” for those at risk of suicide or self-harm from 8pm on Thursdays until 8am on Sundays when many other services are not operational, and is run by Extern NI from the Holywell Building on Bishop Street.
Bereaved local families, activists and organisations campaigned for a service of this kind.
At present, referrals are via statutory, community and voluntary organisations such as the PSNI and Foyle Search & Rescue.
Operational hours are from 8pm on Thursdays to 8am on Sundays at a time when other services are not in place and people are perhaps more vulnerable.
A spokesperson for Derry City & Strabane District Council confirmed that the Council’s Health and Community Committee considered the interim evaluation of the service which is currently being undertaken by the University of Ulster and plans, subject to partner commitment, to extend the service until March 2020.
"The service evaluation is due to complete shortly and will determine the benefits and impact of the service along with the needs and resources required for future sustainability. The Department and existing partners will be updated on the evaluation outcomes in due course and this will inform the development of funding bids to ensure a continued service within the Council area," she added.
If you feel in crisis and need support or if you have observed someone who is in distress and may come to significant harm through self-harm and suicidal behaviour please call CCIS on: 028 7126 2300
If you need to speak to someone urgently, please call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000, the Samaritans or attend your local Emergency Department.
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