A staggering waste: More than £1.6m spent sending region’s mental health patients to private hospital in just seven months

Mundesley Hospital. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Mundesley Hospital. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

More than £1.6m has been spent by the region's mental health trust on sending patients to a private hospital since it was put into special measures by inspectors last year.

Mental health campaigners alleged Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) continue to use the private Mundesley Hospital, in North Norfolk, because they are 'too lazy' to re-open NHS beds.

But the trust said it was like any other in using other providers when demand out weights the number of NHS beds available. And if any concerns were raised they would act 'quickly and decisively' to investigate.

Mundesley Hospital was first put into special measures by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) following an inspection in September last year where a number of serious problems were discovered.

At the time the CQC's deputy chief inspector of hospitals Dr Paul Lelliott said: 'All of the care plans examined lacked detail, staff did not always ensure that patients were aware of their rights and not all staff had completed mandatory training required to do their jobs correctly and effectively.'

Michael Scott, chief executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust. Photo : Steve Adams

Michael Scott, chief executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Archant

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He added: 'We were concerned that the monitoring and recording of rapid tranquillisation was incomplete and nurses did not consistently monitor the physical health of patients who received this.'

A number of 'serious incidents' were also found to have taken place at the hospital, which had not been revealed to the CQC.

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The hospital was again inspected in January, when although improvements had been made, inspectors still said the service provided was not up to scratch.

Despite this, the number of nights NSFT patients spent at Mundesley rose. And financial data revealed £1,616,850 had been spent sending patients to the unit since September alone.

In that time the number of nights patients spent in hospitals outside Norfolk and Suffolk also spiked, but this number was brought down in April - the most recent month data is available for.

Meanwhile, a bed review carried out by NSFT found 'the current number of NSFT beds could be sufficient to continue meeting demand'.

A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: 'That NSFT could waste such staggering sums of taxpayer's money sending patients to a remote private hospital rated inadequate by the CQC shows how reliant it has become on private providers. These sums are sufficient to re-open local NHS beds which would improve care and save the taxpayer money.'

Based on figures given by former NSFT operations director Kathy Chapman, during the consultation on the closure of Carlton Court hospital in Lowestoft in 2014, the £1.6m could have paid for 5,839 NHS bed days.

The cash spent at Mundesley since September paid for 3,394 bed days, according to NSFT board papers.

The campaign spokesman added: 'We've often wondered why NSFT doesn't reopen NHS beds. Reluctantly, the only explanation we can find is that to do so would be hard work and they are too lazy to do so: it is so much easier to just book private ambulances and write a blank cheque signed by the taxpayer to private hospital providers nationwide, inadequate or not.'

However, Michael Scott, NSFT chief executive hit back at those claims. He said: 'Our trust makes use of beds at Mundesley Hospital on a flexible basis, when our own beds are at maximum capacity. This is to ensure that those people who are so unwell that a hospital admission is necessary, can receive inpatient care as close to home as possible, and to avoid sending them out of our local area.

'We closely and continually monitor the standards of care at the hospital – as with all other providers we use – with regular visits by senior trust staff. Patient review meetings are held twice a week to ensure that each of our patients is receiving appropriate standards of care.

'If any concerns about patient care were to be raised, as within our own services, we would act quickly and decisively to investigate and to gain assurances that our patients are safe and that appropriate action was being taken.

'If we ever believed that this was not the case, we would make alternative arrangements for our patients' care.'

Catherine Guelbert-Thick, chief executive at Mundesley Hospital, added: 'NSFT are a significant partner for Mundesley Hospital. We value our relationship with them highly. The ethos of Mundesley Hospital has always been to offer a service in Norfolk for Norfolk people and we are pleased to work positively with NSFT to achieve this aim which means that patients are not being referred out of area. We believe that placing their patients with a local provider offers an excellent value for money.'

Availability of beds

Mr Scott added: 'As with all NHS trusts, demand for beds varies and there are occasions when the demand can outweigh the number of beds available. Flexible use of other arrangements makes sense in these circumstances, using both NHS and other providers' beds.

'All NHS mental health trusts also have a statutory duty to also accept people from other areas of the country if their beds are free. This bed-sharing process is based on up-to-date information at any one point in time.

'An independent report exploring initiatives aimed at relieving pressures on our local mental health beds was published recently. This independent review - jointly commissioned by NSFT and local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) - was in response to increasing demands on mental health services.

'Our trust and the CCGs have been working through the findings of the report with our frontline staff. After all of these discussions are complete, we will have a clearer picture of how we can better use our existing resources more efficiently for the benefit of local people and delivery plans will be drawn up.

'These will be drawn up under the remit of the mental health sustainability and transformation plan work.'

Suffolk patients unaffected

A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said: 'No patient from east or west Suffolk has been sent to Mundesley Hospital for treatment since the CQC report. In fact, it remains very unusual for a patient with a mental health or learning disability issue to be sent out of Suffolk for treatment because of bed capacity issues.

'Commissioning the very best mental health services is a priority for both CCGs and we work with a number of mental health providers including NSFT.

'We have increased the mental health budget to £111m for 2017/18, from £103m in 2016/17.'

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