The region's embattled mental health trust is under fresh scrutiny after it emerged it had spent more than £800,000 on spin doctors.

After being rated as inadequate in 2022, the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust agreed a contract with public relations firm Hood and Woolf.

Since the contract was signed, the consultancy has been paid at least £814,752.83 by the trust - with bosses claiming the organisation provided "specialist capacity" that it "lacked at a time of great need".

But the figure, reported by the BBC, has seen the trust blasted by MPs and unions, who argue the money would have been far better spent improving services.

Eastern Daily Press: Clive Lewis, Norwich South MPClive Lewis, Norwich South MP (Image: PA)

Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, said he was "aghast" at the cost" - and questioned whether the company's services may have been used to help the trust gain favour with the Care Quality Commission, which had rated it inadequate.

The regulator re-inspected the trust earlier this year and improved its rating to "requires improvement".

Mr Lewis said: "I think there are genuine questions about how this money has been spent.

"If they've been using public money to tell the CQC that there isn't a problem, then I would like to know about it."

Cath Byford, deputy chief executive of NSFT, said the firm provided "rapid and sustained access to a range of skills and support".

She added that the agreement with Hood and Woolf had now concluded.

Peter Passingham, of Unison, also questioned the spending.

He said: "That money could be going to pay for clinical staff on the ground - you might be talking about maybe 10 mental health nurses.

"If the trust wants to improve its image, it should spend money on improving its services."

The CQC told the BBC its decision over the trust's rating was drawn from "a number of evidence sources" and that it was confident in its findings.


What is the money for?

Hood and Woolf is a consultancy which works to improve communications for organisations.

The firm is based in London and lists crisis management among its areas of expertise.

Steph Hood, one of its directors, said: "None of the work we have done is in opposition to providing good care to patients.

"It is essential in supporting NHS colleagues to focus on running the services that people need."

NSFT is not the first NHS trust locally to have used the organisation's service.

In the financial year of 2022/23, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn paid the firm just under £580,000 to assist in its campaign for a new hospital to be built.

Eastern Daily Press: Alice Webster, chief executive of the QEHAlice Webster, chief executive of the QEH (Image: QEH)

Alice Webster, chief executive of the QEH, said: "This activity could not be fulfilled by the limited trust communication and engagement team at the time due to senior vacancies and sickness."