MEMBERS of the Bridport Hughes Unit Group Supporters (HUGS) are exploring ways to expand their support to people with mental health illnesses and their carers.

The group, which was formed in 2010, is looking at different models offering periodic meetings along the lines of the Living Tree cancer support group, in that it provides a range of activities, including art, creative writing, cartoon drawing, dance, music and walking, as well as providing occasional meetings with occupational therapists and other professionals within the mental health sector.

Simon Williams, chairman of HUGS, said: “It would be a break away from the more private HUGS, not in the sense that HUGS rules wouldn’t apply – they would – because HUGS’ rules are basically what is said in the room stays in the room. People bring up personal experiences and feelings. Meetings are not opportunities for gossip.

“It would be an opening out to the one in four of the wider mental health community.

“It would give people a regular focus in their lives centred on activities.

“I have had a very positive reaction to those I have spoken to, but financing will be a huge area of difficulty.

“We will need sponsorship, everything you need to run an organisation, such as a website.

“There is a huge area of work and it is not going to happen just like that. We will need some seed funding if we go down this road.

“At present it is an exploration, but in context of HUGS’ history, it is a natural progression.

“We are trying to listen to what people want, what people fear and continue in a constructive way to change things, to regain some of what we lost with the closure of local units”

HUGS was started by a group of inpatients at the Hughes Unit concerned at the way things were developing. It now has more than 100 members, including some from north Dorset. People are not aware of what HUGS has achieved or what has come about as a result of HUGS.

Mr Williams added: “Since 1998, mental health services in Dorset followed a rurally distributed model with five small inpatient centres around the county with the acute services at Forston Clinic, Charlton Down. These small units had seven beds with 14 at Linden Ward, Weymouth.

“They were open to in and out patients with occupational health for both, a 24-hour phone line to nurses who knew you and community nurses for out-patients.

“There are more than 400 seriously ill patients in the Bridport, Lyme Regis and Beaminster area."

A consultation was held into the closure of beds at the Hughes Unit and Steward Lodge in Sherborne but it was largely a ‘formality’ and the result was likely to be a ‘forgone conclusion’.

Due to this, members approached public law solicitors, who were keen to take on the case, and the matter was referred to judicial review. The trust won the case after stating it was going to put in place a number of facilities to overcome remoteness problems and offered dual trialling of the proposals, something Mr Williams says was never done.

The Hughes Unit and the Sherborne unit at Stewart Lodge closed in April 2013, resulting in a cut of 45 per cent of inpatient beds. It left 14 beds at the Linden Ward in Weymouth and a seven-bed recovery house was opened in Weymouth.

Two members of HUGS committee campaigned to set up a drop-in facility at Bridport called Harmony which continues today.

HUGS kept data arising from freedom of information enquiries and a comparison of 2011 to 2012 and 2014 to 2015 from before and after the closure of the units was made and two reports were written.

Mr Williams said: “Significant findings were that sectioning for assessment in all of Dorset outside of East Dorset and Purbeck had increased by 100 per cent and for treatment had increased by 45 per cent.

“One in five patients from the west were treated in the east of the county and vice versa, a significant increase in self-harming and patients presenting to A&E for psychiatric treatment, a grossly inadequate crisis phone line, massive additional pressure on all community resources and at least two self-inflicted deaths.”

As a result of these two reports, and a third one added later, Mr Williams was asked to take part in the design of new mental health services for west Dorset.

Mr Williams added: “While more beds were agreed on, they were all in the east of the country.

“The Forston clinic is to have four additional beds, the Weymouth unit will be closed.

“There will be a front room in Bridport, Shaftesbury and Wareham, Thursday to Saturday, and a more extended facility in Dorchester without beds. With the reduction of beds in the west, the bar accessing community care has been raised.”

In January 2017, members of the HUGS committee formed Bridport Mind Fest which rapidly grew into a six-day event centred around World Mental Health Day on October 10. The festival was held in 2017 and 2018, with plans already underway for this year’s festival.

Anyone who would like to get involved with and support HUGS should email or put a letter with contact details in the letterbox for HUGS in Wells Pharmacy on East Street.