In recent years, Portsmouth has seen a sharp increase in the number of residents with mental health issues. Cuts to vital public services affect people on low incomes far more than those with a healthy household bank balance.
This can add stress and strain to lives that are already difficult. So it is a great shame to see Portsmouth Counselling Service (PCS) facing closure.
PCS has provided affordable counselling in Portsmouth since 1993. Professional counsellors volunteer their time, with administrative costs covered by council grants. 57% of its clients have an annual household income of less than £9,000.
In 2015 alone, PCS gave over 5,000 counselling sessions to almost 700 people including victims of crime and domestic violence, and those suffering with substance misuse issues, anxiety and depression.
PCS is due to shut its doors for the last time two days before Christmas. Its funding has been withdrawn. This follows a review of mental health care commissioning begun by the council when led by the Liberal Democrats. I believe it is a classic example of prioritising short-term gain at a long term cost.
As local councillor for Charles Dickens ward serving the heart of Portsmouth, I know how important it is to offer accessible mental health care to people on low incomes. And that is why I raised concerns about the closure of PCS at Full Council earlier this month.
After PCS closes, the choice is stark: pay £45 an hour for private counselling, or access the excellent Talking Change Service, run by NHS Portsmouth CCG. Sadly, Talking Change cannot provide more than six counselling sessions for most conditions.
So people in need of long-term help will turn in desperation to Portsmouth’s GPs and, in more severe cases, Accident and Emergency Units, none of which can provide the help they so badly need.
This will come at a cost to our publicly funded services, and to our families and communities.
The bitter irony is that the hourly cost to run PCS is less than half that of the alternative. Portsmouth Labour and I will continue to stand up for our city by lobbying for the preservation of this and similar vital services.
Cllr Stephen Morgan, Leader, Portsmouth Labour