MENTAL health chiefs pledged to listen to and improve the care and support provided to users after coming under fire from patients claiming they felt utterly abandoned by the system.

After being handed an extensive list of complaints and concerns from members of mental health organisation SUNS, directors and consultants at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust met them face to face at the charity’s offices to address some of their misgivings about the body and its intensive team, also known as the crisis team.

Paula May, managing director for AWP Swindon, Dr Sammad Hashmi, consultant psychiatrist for the intensive team, and Newland Anning, head of practice and profession were quizzed by mental health sufferers and asked to account for the ‘disgusting’ and ‘patronising’ way in which they were treated by the crisis team in their time of need.

User Maria Rooney said: “It trivialises someone’s mental health condition when people are desperate and at the end of their tether are told by someone on the other end of the line to have a cup of tea and a bath. People want to be taken seriously by the crisis team. It’s patronising.”

Others at the meeting also claimed that despite being promised daily visits from the team over several weeks, they only received one phone call and had to deal with their suicidal thoughts and deep depression entirely alone.

A tendency to call the police at the first sign of danger when users contacted the health service threatening to end their lives was also criticised by members, who said they felt ignored by mental health staff who offloaded them on the emergency services.

SUNS runs its own helpline Listening Line, which regularly deals with calls from patients let down in the past by the crisis team at their most vulnerable, according to chairman Ann Mooney.

“When you call them, they say ‘We are a bit busy, do you really need us?’,” said Ann, who suffers from mental health problems herself. “When they say they will call back they sometimes don’t for hours or not at all and in that time someone could have died.

“People are told they are going to be given help for two weeks and then someone just comes once.

“We all want to work with the mental health service but you don’t listen to us.”

Although unable to provide specific and detailed answers as many members had not gone through the formal complaint channels, AWP representatives vowed to ensure staff were more sympathetic to users’ plight and their individual needs.

“We have got to make sure people don’t get lost in the gaps,” said Paula May.

“The response of the crisis team is not always helpful or what people need at that point in time and can be a bit general, from what we are hearing. The advice given is not always helpful to hear for some people; and that’s not OK.”

Newland Anning added: “This is not just a one-off meeting.

“We need to come out and listen to what people have to say. Some people are more comfortable coming to us on an informal basis then going through the formal complaints process. We want to listen and improve.”