The Assistant Minister in charge of mental health services has rejected suggestions that a free counselling service is "creaking under the pressure" of mounting numbers of referrals and increasingly complex cases.
Senator Steve Pallett acknowledged that the Listening Lounge has been supporting more islanders in recent weeks but denied that LINC – which runs the facility as part of a pilot scheme for the Government – was considering pulling out.
The Charles Street facility opened last November as part of a pilot scheme that will run until 31 December 2020.
It aims to provide help to islanders with issues such as anxiety and depression before they become more complex, while also relieving pressure on Jersey Talking Therapies.
Pictured: The 'Listening Lounge' is based at Charles House on Charles Street.
During lockdown, the Listening Lounge's counselling and peer support services were provided via phone and online. A dedicated phone service, the Listening Line, was also introduced.
More recently, physical appointments resumed on an appointment-only basis.
According to Deputy Trevor Pointon, however, the service was put under severe pressure during lockdown and remains strained, which could put the whole pilot scheme at risk.
“It has come to our attention that the Listening Lounge is creaking under the pressures that it’s under,” Deputy Pointon said, during a Scrutiny hearing with the Health and Social Services Panel, “to the point at which they may be considering pulling out of the service altogether because they simply can’t manage the level and severity of the burden that besets them."
Responding to the Scrutineer, Senator Pallett said he would “totally refute” the suggestion.
Deputy Pointon went on to claim that over the last two weeks, the Listening Lounge had received 55 referrals and that staff currently didn’t have the necessary level of skill to deal with “the burden of some cases”.
But the Assistant Minister again disagreed.
He said this was in contradiction of the information he had recently been given by the Listening Lounge, whose Director he said he had frequent contact with.
Pictured: Senator Steve Pallett, the Assistant Minister with responsibility for mental health.
He added that the team at the Listening Lounge was able to refer the more severe cases or islanders who require immediate attention to other Adult Mental Health services.
While he admitted the reintroduction of services was "a difficult time", Senator Pallett said he didn't believe there to be any threat to the Listening Lounge.
“I haven’t got any concerns that the Listening Lounge has not been able to cope with this level of referrals or people walking in at the current time,” Deputy Pallett said.
Pictured: The activity of the Listening Lounge almost doubled in June.
Later on in the hearing, the Health Department's Group Managing Director, Rob Sainsbury, confirmed that the department was aware of the increased activity at the facility, which he says almost doubled in June, as well as the increase in complexity.
Some of that, he explained, could be attributed to the direct impact of the covid-19 pandemic.
“There are links,” he said. “We are seeing an increase in pattern because obviously we’ve seen people who have been impacted on the psychological effect of what’s happened with covid, whether that’s financial, employment related or other circumstances.
"So, we are definitely going to see some extra cases coming through, which is consistent with other jurisdictions."
Pictured: Virtual support is not "always the best for people", Mr Sainsbury said.
Mr Sainsbury said that the recent increase also reflects of the need for some people to see their counsellor rather than speak to them on the phone, as has been the case during lockdown.
He said that while mental health services had provided virtual support, this was "not always the best for people".
“They need to see people, they need to be in proximity with people so naturally as the services now start to open more normally as they were prior to covid, you are going to see people who want to come in, see their counsellor have a conversation with somebody face to face," he explained.
“I think it’s a combination of both,” he added. “I think it’s a bit too early for us to actually draw conclusions on all of the activity because we’re only just starting to get back to a level of previous business as normal but we’re seeing themes and a lot of that does relate to covid as we expected it to.”
The Director said that Jersey Talking Therapies will return to normal by the end of July, with some appointments resuming from 20 July.
Pictured: Lucy Nicolaou, Head of Services for LINC and the Lead at the Listening Lounge.
Contacted by Express, Lucy Nicolaou, Head of Services for LINC and the Lead at the Listening Lounge, confirmed that, while the numbers of islanders seen at the Lounge during March and April was consistent with previous months, there had been an increase after some services resumed.
Ms Nicolaou said there were numerous reasons for the rising demand, referring to the "incredibly unusual and, for some, unsettling times" the island faced recently.
"Our lifestyles, routines, freedoms and relationships have been disrupted," she added. "There have been concerns around employment, finances, education, health and restricted travel. Understandably this has led to worry and anxiety for some. There have also been changes to some services that provide mental health support.'
She also moved to reassure islanders that LINC not only remains "fully committed" to continue to provide help and support through the Listening Lounge, and has also invested in the service, through technology and system upgrades as well as the recruitment of two more counsellors.
Pictured: LINC has no intention of bringing the Listening Lounge to an end.
They have also taken on additional space to operate safely while social distancing restrictions remain in place.
"We are immensely proud of the Listening Lounge team and how quickly the service has adapted to changing demands, and have no intention to bring this to a close," she said.
"We are continuing to work with HCS and our partner agencies to support wider efforts to increase accessibility and availability of therapeutic services at the time these are needed."
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.
There are no comments for this article.