AN ELEVENTH hour bid to rescue an award winning mental health programme for prisoners in Huntingdonshire is being put together after its funding came to an end.

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust confirmed yesterday (Tuesday) it would not continue a pilot health improvement programme for adult and young offenders at HMP Littlehey, despite the programme staff being awarded an Inspirational Teams prize by the NHS East of England last week.

Mental health charity Hunts Mind, who ran the £12,000-a-year programme along with the trust's mental health in-reach team, have pledged to look at alternative sources for funding.

A grant application is due to be submitted to the European Social Fund in the next two weeks, and the charity's chief executive Sarah Hughes said she was hopeful the programme could start again in January or February.

The programme, which involved modules in anger management, stress management, mental health awareness and communication skills, has received praise for its innovative approach, combining teaching and therapy.

Probation officers, prison staff and mental health professionals credited it with completely changing the behaviour of some of the prisoners - making them less challenging and even giving some the impetus to look for jobs once released.

Ms Hughes said: “We knew we would improve the circumstances of the guys, but we didn't know how much it would have an impact.

“We also delivered to the young offenders part of Littlehey - it was quite moving and a very powerful experience. These are young men with very difficult life experiences and our job is not to judge them, they have already been judged.

“In prison anything up to 90 per cent of the population can have mental health problems. The lowest number is 65 per cent.”

But Ms Hughes stressed there was no hard feeling towards CFPT, which has also come under fire recently for its proposal to close the mental health Acer Ward in Huntingdon.

“We knew it was a year's programme, a pilot, to see if that kind of intervention would work. We knew we were going to have to get alternative sources of funding, but the difference is, the financial climate has changed.

“Getting money to continue it has been a nightmare. It is very clear the prison want us to stay, the in-reach team want us to stay, the prisoners are asking for it to come back. We have other guys that want to do the programme desperately.

“We are talking about a service that can rehabilitate offenders in quite a big way, and any benefactors or sponsors who would want to be involved, should contact us.”

A spokesman for CPFT said funding for the programme had been awarded by Cambridgeshire PCT for one year only. An in-reach team, set up two years ago by the trust, would continue to provide workshops and therapy to inmates, the spokesman added.