Concerns for patients as 500 mental health jobs face axe in Norfolk and Suffolk

Aidan Thomas, Chief Executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust at Mariner House in Ips

Aidan Thomas, Chief Executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust at Mariner House in Ipswich. Photo: Simon Parker.

Patient safety will be put at risk if mental health bosses' plans to axe 500 jobs in Norfolk and Suffolk are put into action, according to senior psychiatrists.

And they claim the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is being 'downright dishonest'' for failing to state that the cuts will have detrimental effects on patient care.

The trust revealed proposals to make the cuts last year, citing a need to make 20pc savings in the next four years as the justification for a radical redesign of the service.

The initial plans anticipated a 33pc reduction in medical staff, including a 31pc cut in consultant psychiatrists, a 50pc cut in staff grade psychiatrists and a 32pc cut in senior nurses by 2016.

Dr Chris Jones, a consultant forensic psychiatrist and chairman of the Local Negotiating Committee, and Dr Marlies Jansen, a consultant general adult psychiatrist and member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have written letters which will be considered by a joint Norfolk and Suffolk Health Scrutiny meeting on Monday.

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But the trust chief executive, Aidan Thomas, said consultation had resulted in more than 50 changes to the original plans.

Despite 'bland assurances' Dr Jones said in a letter to NSFT medical director Hadrian Ball: 'The proposed reductions to medical and other clinical staff will have a major impact on the quality of clinical care provided.'

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He added: 'The clear implication of much of the proposals is that current levels of quality and activity will be maintained or even increased. We consider that this is totally inconceivable that the current level of service could be maintained in the face of such reductions.

'We consider that it is totally unsustainable, and that it is at best disingenuous and at worst downright dishonest of the trust to promote these proposals without clearly stating the effect that such a reduction in capacity will inevitably have on patients.

'We believe that it is inevitable within these proposals that both the quantity and quality of service delivery will decline, and that this will result in significant risks to patient safety.'

Dr Jones raises concerns that the cuts will put staff under 'extreme pressure to accept increased workloads and increased pressure of work, with the inevitable reduction in service quality and patient safety that this will entail.'

The letter goes on to criticise the 90-day consultation, stating staff have not been given adequate time to respond.

Dr Jones added: 'We do not consider that this is true or meaningful consultation, and we do not consider that this is allowing staff a reasonable opportunity to engage with a process which is likely to have devastating consequences, not only for patient care but also for the individual careers of members of staff.'

And Dr Jansen raised concerns about the quality of service in more rural areas.

'In rural areas, staff are likely to be so overstretched that doing home visits will no longer be feasible,' Dr Jansen said.

'Psychiatrists will no longer have the time to travel to outlying clinics. This will seriously affect the access to care for our most isolated and vulnerable patients and result in less contact between mental health professionals and GPs.'

The newly formed Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Scrutiny Committee will consider the plans at its first meeting in Norwich on Monday.

Councillors from both counties will scrutinise whether the changes are in the interests of the health service in Norfolk and Suffolk and the impact the proposals will have on patient and carer experience.

They will assess the quality of the clinical evidence underlying the proposals and whether they are financially sustainable.

The committee will also consider and comment on the extent to which patients and the public have been consulted on the proposals, and the extent to which their views have been taken into account.

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