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Mental health care in Norfolk suffers fresh blow amid social care shake-up

PUBLISHED: 14:27 28 January 2014 | UPDATED: 14:27 28 January 2014

Serious concerns over the social care provided to adults with mental health issues has led to Norfolk County Council taking action.

Serious concerns over the social care provided to adults with mental health issues has led to Norfolk County Council taking action.

Archant

Serious concerns that social care for adults with mental health issues in Norfolk is not good enough has led to the county council taking responsibility for the service away from the mental health trust.

Background

Social care for people with mental health issues was aired at a meeting of Norfolk County Council’s community services overview and scrutiny panel in November.

Councillors at that meeting heard how, at one point, council bosses could not be confident the authority was fully meeting its legal care obligations.

Bosses admitted the social care service for adults with mental health issues in Norfolk was not good enough, as they pledged to make improvements.

A report into the issues was commissioned in October last year and published in the spring, before the contract was extended for a year with a plan for improvements.

Officers said: “The current arrangement is not providing the necessary outcomes required to ensure a modernised mental health care system is provided within Norfolk.”

Talks between the council and the trust were ongoing and Harold Bodmer, the council’s director of community services, said: “Both of us agree there is a need for the model to change, both of us know what areas need to be addressed and above all both of us agree that working together will be the best way to change them.”

Care of vulnerable Norfolk adults with mental health problems suffered a fresh blow after the plug was pulled on a £4m-a-year contract amid major concerns about provision.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) was urged last year to urgently improve social care for adults suffering mental health issues.

However, County Hall chiefs announced yesterday that the service, which provides support for around 1,600 people a year, will be transferred back to the control of the county council later this year.

For six years, social care for 18 to 65-year-olds with mental health problems has been provided by staff from NSFT. However, an independent review identified a number of areas for improvement and the NHS 
trust was given a year to address issues.

How the EDP has previously reported the story. Graphic by Annette Hudson How the EDP has previously reported the story. Graphic by Annette Hudson

Officials from the county council yesterday said a new model of social care would be adopted from September this year, and directly managed by the local authority.

Around 100 mental health staff are set to transfer to the employment of the council by the autumn.

Norman Lamb, North Norfolk MP and health minister, said he would be monitoring the changes closely.

“My concern is to ensure that we improve and enhance joined-up integration teams working between social services and mental health. I absolutely would not want to see a service split up with service users falling through the gaps between social services and mental health. I am assured that it is not their [Norfolk County Council’s] intention and provided that is the case, I can understand the decision to monitor the service and have more control,” he said.

The service consists of social workers who are specially trained to deal with people with severe mental health needs. The team also provides round-the-clock emergency support to assess whether people need to be detained under the mental health act and specialist social workers who work with people with drug and alcohol issues.

Sue Whitaker, cabinet member for adult social services at the council, said they would continue to work closely with NSFT in the future.

“We need to revise and strengthen the way we provide social care for people with mental health needs and we feel the best way to achieve this is to manage the service directly. We’re not the only council to take a decision like this in this context, so this isn’t simply a Norfolk issue.

“Both the council and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust are committed to making this transition happen as smoothly as possible, for staff and particularly people who use the service.”

The county council pays NSFT £4.1m a year for the social care service. The trust is currently undergoing a major redesign of services to reduce its budget by 20pc.

Andrew Hopkins, acting chief executive at NSFT, said: “The council and the trust have been working to review the current arrangements and while there are positive things about the current arrangements, both parties recognise that the service has not been working as well as we would want.”

Terry Skyrme, of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, added: “It must throw their [NSFT’s] service strategy into chaos, but we do not know the full implications yet. We were integrated, but this is disintegration and it means more change and instability.”

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