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Legal challenge to closure of ‘lifeline’ mental health services

Rook Irwin Sweeney is instructed by the three Claimants in an urgent judicial review challenging the closure of the North Devon Link Service drop-in services which run from the North Devon Link Centres in Barnstaple, Bideford and Ilfracombe.

 

A hearing will take place on 13 June 2024 to decide whether the Claimants have ‘permission’ to bring the claim, and to decide the Claimants’ application for interim relief preventing further steps from being taken to close the services, pending the outcome of the claim.

 

The claim, issued on 24 May 2024, is brought on behalf of three adults with complex social care and mental health needs who are users of the services. The drop-in services provide support to people with chronic severe mental health conditions, who often fall through the gap between primary and secondary care. They currently run three times a week at each centre, and provide service-users with the chance to access 1:1 support from trained professionals and the opportunity to socialise with their peers and take part in activities such as arts, crafts and gardening. The services were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, reopening in 2022 with a reduced range of support and activities on offer. The Claimants, and a number of other service users who have provided witness statements in the claim, describe that the Link services are vital for meeting their needs arising from their mental health, including their social care needs to develop and maintain relationships with others. They say that there is no equivalent alternative service available to them, and they do not consider that any of the alternative services in the area, such as volunteer-led services, could meet their needs.

 

Devon County Council decided to close the services on 13 March 2024. The planned closure date is 26 July 2024, however steps are already being taken to reduce the service ahead of the closure. The Claimants have therefore applied to the High Court for the claim to be expedited and for an interim order preventing the Council from taking further steps to progress the closure.

 

Sonia Gould, one of the Claimants, has said: “I am devastated by the decision to close the Link Centre and am terrified about what will happen after they are gone. The Link Centre is the only opportunity I have to socialise with other people going through similar things. The support I get at the Link Centre prevents my mental health from reaching a crisis, and keeps me able to function day-to-day. I don’t think I will cope without any support. I am heading towards a mental health crisis and have become suicidal. The other services which the Council has suggested can’t provide the same kind of support and lots of them are run by volunteers and are mainstream services, and aren’t set up to support people with complex mental health. The Council is leaving us on a cliff edge with no support and I think that this decision will cost lives”.

 

The Claimants argue that Devon County Council’s decision to close the service was unlawful because it failed to have regard to mandatory considerations including its duties under the Care Act 2014 and Health and Social Care Act 2012. They argue that the decision breached section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires public bodies to consider the impact of any decision on people with protected characteristics, including disabled people. They also argue that the decision fails to have regard to the Council’s own ‘Suicide Prevention Statement and Action Plan’ for 2023-24, which is aimed at reducing suicides in Devon, where suicide rates are significantly higher than in the rest of England.

 

The Claimants are represented by Anne-Marie Irwin and Rosie Campbell of Rook Irwin Sweeney, and Steve Broach KC and Eleanor Leydon of 39 Essex Chambers.

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