National union leader tells York protest meeting that mental health services are under attack

Flashback to the York mental health protest in May. Photograph: Jack Gevertz

Campaigners took to the streets of York to protest against cuts to local mental health services.

Organised in the wake of the closure of Bootham Park Hospital, chants at the rally on Saturday (May 15) included “Bootham Park not for sale” and “Mental health not private wealth”.

Unite leader Len McCluskey gave a surprise speech on St Helen’s Square shortly after the march. Other speakers included MP Rachael Maskell.

Paul Davis, trade union liaison officer, said he was on the march because of the “savage cuts” being made to mental health services.

The demonstration moves through the city centre
The demonstration moves through the city centre

He told YorkMix: “We have a massive mental health home that’s been closed down with only so many days’ notice. It has created a knock-on effect for families and for people who suffer with mental health.

“I feel like the mental health system in York is in absolute crisis. It needs taken to task and taken to task fast.

“Everyone here today might get through to the government that the people here are not standing for it.”

‘Cross and let down’

In her address, Rachael Maskell condemned the “excuses” on mental health services coming from Parliament. “I will not stand for that,” she told crowds.

Speaking to YorkMix, she added: “Today is such an important day to mark what has happened around mental health services here in York but also how we take those forward for the future.

“The other thing about today is to ensure we see a new generation for Bootham Park Hospital and I’m saying on that site because it’s accessible so people have the services they need when they need them.”

Sarah, a former patient of Bootham Park Hospital, said she personally felt “so cross and let down”.

She said: “We have been pushed and shoved like sheep from pillar to post.

“And like sheep we have been expected to accept the decisions made for us. However, we are not sheep. The reason we are here is to stand up for ourselves.”

The mental health march passes York Minster
The mental health march passes York Minster
University of York student union president Ben Leatham speaks to the rally
University of York student union president Ben Leatham speaks to the rally

Meanwhile, in his address, Len McCluskey, who was in the area to see his daughter who studies at the University of York, said the government were trying to “constantly attack” the NHS, “particularly in the area of mental health.”

He told crowds: “You being out on the street is very important. There are tens of thousands across our nation demonstrating and protesting, and making certain the issue remains high on the agenda.”

University of York student union president Ben Leatham spoke about the need for greater mental health services among the area’s student population.

He said: “Last year, 12 per cent of York’s students used the on-campus services. That is huge.

“Rising fees, low job prospects and increasing use of social media – all these factors are contributing to the situation we are in at the minute.”