A CHARITY determined to re-focus the mental health service on its patients has launched an independent survey to allow users to freely express their concerns, misgivings and thoughts about the care they receive.

Along with patients, mental health organisation SUNS compiled a questionnaire asking residents currently being treated or previously cared for by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust to voice their opinions, whether positive or negative, of the service.

The survey was put together with a view to improve the care delivered by AWP and ensure its staff did not fall out of touch with users’ needs on the ground.

Having heard complaints about inadequate care and lack of compassion on occasion, Ann Mooney, SUNS chairman, decided to give mental health service users, often reticent to lodge a formal complaint, a chance to make their views known to AWP by other means.

“We were getting quite a lot of people turning up at the door, who had never been to SUNS before, complaining about the care they were receiving,” said Ann, who suffers from mental health problems herself.

“Some were treated appallingly by the crisis team. And I have been too. When I have called telling them I felt suicidal I have been told several times to have a bath or go take a brisk walk at 2am in the morning. People feel they are not being listened to or taken seriously but nothing is changing.

“Through the survey we want to hear the positive as well as the negative; it’s crucial that we do.”

The questionnaire’s format was designed to allow people more freedom to expand on their opinions, something they had not always been allowed to do in NHS surveys, she added. And callers to SUNS’s helpline The Listening Line will also be invited to answer the survey.

Once collated, the results will be sent to AWP as well as Swindon Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee and health and wellbeing board.

“What we are saying to people out there is ‘Don’t hide away in the dark but speak out’,” added Ann.

“Too many people are not speaking out. We often get told by patients that they are scared to be judged by the people who care for them and of being treated worse if they complain. But the information will be confidential and we will not reveal the identity of the people who took the survey to the mental health service.

“This survey could be a big step if we can get people to come forward. We are also looking to hear from the carers who look after them.

“We will fight to make these changes and for mental health patients to get better care even if that means getting a new provider.”

An AWP spokesman invited patients to take part in its own Friends and Family Test Survey but welcomed any feedback received from users through SUNS’s questionnaire.

“The Friends and Family Test Survey, offered to all service users after a care review, on transfer or discharge, has a follow up question giving unlimited space for service users to tell us in their own way, about their experience of care,” he said. “We welcome all feedback about the quality of our services and look forward to receiving the analysis of the SUNS patient survey.”

To complete the SUNS survey visit www.swindonsuns.org

Alternatively, to get a copy, call Margaret on 01793 436174 or Ann on 0773 8218434.

To speak to a Listening Line volunteer call 01793 332520 or email help@swindonlisteningline