Ian Parker reports on what has been revealed in the modern-day asylums
A protest bringing together around fifty people at very short notice took place outside Manchester Central Library on Thursday 29 September. This was following an undercover BBC investigation that revealed abuse inside the Edenfield Centre in north Manchester. This was widely reported in the local press and nationally. The undercover reporter was employed as a healthcare support worker, and covertly filmed patients being restrained, sworn at, humiliated and placed in seclusion.
There were banners from Unison and from the Manchester Users Network, from which Alan Hartman and Paul Reed spoke at the protest. The Tory MP Christian Wakeford (who jumped ship to join Labour after being elected) whose constituency includes Edenfield, also spoke, calling for a public inquiry.
The Manchester Central Library protest was organised by CHARM (Communities for Holistic Accessible Rights-based Mental health). CHARM was set up precisely to combat the attempts to condense mental health care in Manchester in a massive new facility in the north of the city. Park House Hospital in Crumpsall will not only imprison patients in a new unit which is cut off from the local community, but ‘treat’ patients from across Manchester.
With the push to outsourcing and competitive tendering that was ramped up by a Labour government, that also means that Park House will be competing to offer its services to other parts of the country. And so, patients will be wrenched away from their own communities and families, who will have, in many cases, to travel long distances to visit them.
Speakers from CHARM included Paul Baker, a long-standing activist in radical mental health politics, and Anandi Ramamurthy, an activist whose daughter is in one of the north Manchester institutions. There were workers from mental health services in Manchester who were wary about speaking at the protest, but were there in solidarity. They spoke privately to members of the crowd about receiving emails from Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust to employees after the story broke. Emails first referred to ‘alleged abuse’ – and this is after the video evidence was shared widely on social media – and then employees were told to refer any press inquiries to managers.
This is the disaster of privatisation and containment in large central units that destroys the best hopes of community care in mental health. It is part of the package of top-down unaccountable health care that leads to the kind of abuses that have occurred at Edenfield. The BBC undercover investigation shows a little of what is going on, but there needs to be a response that puts the blame not only on hard-pressed staff who are inducted into a regime of abuse that takes short-cuts, but on the kind of neoliberal austerity capitalism that sets the managerial rules that lead to this abuse. The short-cuts are made for financial reasons, and cuts to services are now at the heart of capitalism.
This is a protest that raises broader issues about the nature of this wretched economic system that makes us sick and then punishes us further when we have broken under the strain. Actively supporting the CHARM protest, and present at the Central Library were supporters of Asylum Magazine for radical mental health, a collective of activists inside and outside the mental health system that have exposed such abuses over many years. Supporters of the Red Clinic also participated before their own public meeting later that evening. This is a struggle for mental health that must, of necessity, also be anti-capitalist.
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