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High-profile cases involving celebrities have shocked the public and focused attention on the issue of historic sexual abuse. But, with cuts in NHS mental health services, can victims get the help they need?


With a string of disgraced 'national treasures' from the entertainment world and accusations of high-level cover-ups in the 1980s, the issue of historic sexual abuse has probably never been so widely considered and discussed in the UK. However, amongst all the hype and hand-wringing, many in the health sector are raising concerns. With mental health services facing a funding crisis, is it possible to deliver the vital therapy needed by those who have to live with the memories of being abused?

According to the NSPCC, one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. The effects can be devastating, often causing serious emotional and psychological difficulties later in life, with some victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Charity Survivors in Transition says that 70-80% of female sexual abuse victims report substance abuse. Clearly it makes sense to diagnose and treat people before their problems become debilitating and they need emergency intervention.

A range of therapies and treatments, including counselling by specially trained psychiatrists, psychologists or psychotherapists, can be highly effective. However, as we reported in October, spending on mental health has been falling in real terms, putting huge strain on resources. In November, Nursing Times claimed that the NHS has lost over 3,300 mental health nursing jobs over the last four years. And in a recent article for The Independent, Sir Simon Wessely, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, is quoted as saying that NHS mental health services in the UK are 'running dangerously close to collapse'.

However, it's not just NHS resources that are feeling the pinch. Cuts to local authority budgets are also having a knock-on effect. For example, earlier this month Wrexham-based charity Stepping Stones, which offers vital support to victims of historic sexual abuse, was facing a potential 30% cut in funding from Flintshire County Council.

Maybe we need to look north of the border for inspiration. As far back as 2005, way before Saville and Operation Yewtree, the Scottish Executive launched the National Strategy for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse to help improve services for survivors, to ensure greater priority and joined-up working in national and local mainstream services and to improve the lives of all who have suffered childhood trauma. In addition, the Mental Health Strategy 2012-2015 set key targets for improving mental health services.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the UK, alarm bells continue to ring. "The fact that mental health services are now facing staff cuts and bed shortages is a shocking tragedy which is having a real and lasting impact on those who desperately need the right care and support," commented Peter Carter, Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing in the Nursing Times article. "If staffing levels and services are cut back further, then services will continue to crumble which could be a tragedy for us all, to say nothing of all the thousands of private tragedies that could result."

Are you a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, mental health nurse or psychiatric nurse with views on the issues raised in this article? Leave your comments below.

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