First minister calling for rethink over funding threat to Borders helpline

Scottish Government first minister Nicola Sturgeon is calling for a rethink of plans to axe a telephone helpline offering support to Borderers facing mental health issues.

Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 11:32 am
Updated Wednesday, 18th December 2019, 2:58 pm
Councillor Euan Jardine outside Borderline Helpline's office in Roxburgh Street in Galashiels.

Borderline Helpline, run by volunteers from an office in Roxburgh Street in Galashiels, is a free service for adults experiencing emotional distress, with its phones being manned daily from 7pm to 10pm.

With support from NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council’s social work department, Borderline has handled more than 90,000 calls since being set up in 1999.

However, organisers of the service have been told that funding is to be pulled in six months, and without it the helpline is unlikely to survive.

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That threat prompted Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament at first minister’s questions.

That has resulted in a plea for a rethink from Mrs Sturgeon and raised the potential of government intervention to offer the service assistance.

Ms Grahame asked Mrs Sturgeon: “Does the first minister share my concern that Borderline Helpline has been given six months’ notice that it will lose all its funding from NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council, despite independent valuations, including by the council, considering it to be exceptional value for money?

“The situation has been compounded by the fact that there has been no consultation.

“Does she agree that there should be a full consultation and that, at the very least, any decision on funding should be suspended until the impact of closure is assessed?”

In response, Mrs Sturgeon has now asked health secretary Jeanne Freeman to look at providing assistance.

Mrs Sturgeon said: “Services such as Borderline Helpline perform an important function, and I encourage councils to undertake full consultations and ensure that they consider all the implications of such decisions.

“I will ask the cabinet secretary for health and sport to consider the issue from the perspective of the health service to see whether there is more that the government can offer by way of assistance.

“I hope that the council will take seriously the issues that Christine Grahame raised.”

Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine is also alarmed by the move, saying: “I have raised my concerns about how Borderline no longer being supported may affect the people that use it.

“I have been assured that there will be a phase-out of the service and it won’t just be cut off. This gives some hope that we can start to lean people in the direction of other provisions being provided both nationally and locally.

“I would also encourage this charity to engage with council officers in hope we can find funding from other sources but I do understand this might not be possible.”

“However, it also raises the question of charity sustainability across the region, an issue which, going forward, may continue to be more prominent.

“I am also asking the health and social care partnership to make sure matters like this are discussed with elected members prior to any decisions being made as no detailed consultation took place. This is something that needs to be addressed going forward.”

A spokesperson for the the partnership, representing both NHS Borders and the council, said: “The partnership has reviewed its funding to this organisation and has made the decision to give six months’ notice to end its grant funding.

“Consideration was given to the equalities impact assessment completed and the external review of commissioned services including Borderline.

“Although Borderline provides a good-quality service valued by its users, as there are now alternative national helplines, Breathing Space and the Samaritans, as well as the local mental health crisis team, we have reached the difficult decision to end this contract with six months’ notice.

“We would also like to highlight the other early-intervention and prevention services that we have recently invested in.

“In addition, we have also been working with primary care services to develop a comprehensive primary care mental health service which will be available directly to patients from GP practices across the Borders.

“We will be working hard to support Borderline to seek alternative sources of funding and will be working with them to develop a transition plan to ensure that callers are aware of all the other support services available, including those delivered out of hours.”

An online petition was launched this week in a bid to save the service, and it can be found at www.change.org/p/dr-s-mather-chair-of-health-and-social-care-integration-save-borderline-helpline-from-closureBorderline continues to operate each evening on 0800 027 4466 in the meanwhile.