Plans by council and health bosses to pull the plug on their funding for the Borderline Helpline mental health support service have been branded a disgrace.
Since being set up in 1999, the volunteer-led helpline, based in Roxburgh Street in Galashiels, has handled more than 90,000 calls from adults experiencing mental health problems or emotional distress despite only being open from 7pm till 10pm daily.
NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council are now withdrawing their funding for the service, however, saying that alternative options are available.
At a meeting of the council yesterday, December 19, Kelso councillor Euan Robson asked the local authority’s ruling executive: “Who took the decision to terminate the funding for Borderline Helpline and for what reasons, and is any replacement service being set up?”
Fellow Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston, the authority’s executive member for adult social care, replied: “The decision to stop funding Borderline was jointly taken by NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council at an executive management team meeting.
“The health and social care joint organisation, with significant financial pressures in mind, reviewed its funding for this organisation.
“Consideration was given to a quality and impact assessment and the external review of commissioned services, including Borderline.
“Although Borderline provides a good-quality service, there are now alternative national helplines, such as Breathing Space and the Samaritans, as well as the local mental health and crisis team, so we have reached the difficult decision to end the contract with six months’ notice.
“We’d also like to highlight the other areas of prevention services in which we have invested, such as the local area co-ordination team, the wellbeing college and the wellbeing service.
“In addition, we have also been working with primary care services to provide a comprehensive primary care mental health service available directly to patients from GP practices across the Borders.
“We will work hard with Borderline to find alternative sources of funding, and we are working hard with them to develop a transition plan.”
Mr Robson asked a follow-up question, telling the chamber: “I appreciate that councillor Weatherston was not particularly involved in this decision, but would he agree with me that it’s nothing short of a disgrace that an organisation, partly staffed by volunteers, that’s handled 90,000 calls from people in vulnerable situations for 20 years, and is open 365 days a year, has its funding withdrawn without prior consultation?
“And worse still, it was allegedly informed that there is no right of appeal.
“Would he further accept that Borderline helping people in distress at a cost of £78,000 per annum actually saves resources elsewhere in the health and social care system, and this decision is therefore a false economy?
“Will he further agree that some of the alternative provision mentioned does not fill the gap that Borderline occupies?
“And finally, would he, or someone else, therefore convene a meeting in the new year to find a way to save this service for the Borders community?”
Mr Weatherston replied: “I won’t use the word disgrace. I’ll use the word disappointment.
“We face huge financial challenges.
“Borderline is a great service, but there is now a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service set up and funded by the NHS.
“No one is in dispute that this is a great service, but we don’t have the funds to keep it going, unfortunately.
“We’ve looked at other options, and the options available to people in the Borders now are really good.
“This service is open for three hours a night seven days a week. The alternative service is 24/7, so there are other alternatives.
“We’re working hard with the group to source other funding, but, I’m sorry, we have no other option.”