The region's mental health trust is facing calls for it to be disbanded after a damning report condemned it as the worst in the country.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has been downgraded to a rating of 'inadequate' by the Care Quality Commission - the fourth time in a decade that it has had special measures imposed on it.

Trust bosses have vowed that this time things will be different and that its focus is squarely on improving the care people in the two counties receive and making it a better place for people to work.

However, campaigners say the Trust is not fit for purpose and have called for it to be dismantled and replaced with two separate organisations, one to serve each county.

The Trust was visited by CQC inspectors between November 2 and December 29 last year - its first inspection since January 2020, when it showed some improvement.

Officials found many of the front-line staff to be hard-working, caring and desperately keen to make a difference.

But a catalogue of failings have seen the trust downgraded once more. These include:

  • Safe levels of staff not being consistently maintained
  • Ligature points not being removed in a timely manner
  • Waiting lists not being managed
  • Staff not being provided with sufficient training or senior supervision
  • Management not ensuring that lessons were learned from patient incidents and deaths.

The report is the latest blow to the troubled organisation, which was established in 2012 following a merger between two NHS trusts, one covering Norfolk and Waveney and the other covering the rest of Suffolk.

Over the years, the NSFT has since struggled to address a number of issues, with concerns repeatedly raised about a lack of available beds - which has seen many patients taken outside the region for care - and long waiting lists for treatment.

As well as being placed in special measures four times, the Trust has also been through five chief executives in the last ten years.

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk was launched only one year after the Trust was set up, amid fears over its performance.

It says that over the years many lives have been lost to suicide as a result of failings on the Trust's part.

A spokesman for the campaign said action needed to be taken taken immediately, following the latest report.

"We are demanding that NHS England and Improvement take immediate and decisive action to end this deaths crisis.

"We are calling for the break-up of this dysfunctional Trust.

"We are pleased that the CQC has taken decisive action on the failed mental health trust for Norfolk and Suffolk, however, it is not enough and there are serious questions for NHS England and Improvement and the local commissioners who have allowed this dire situation to continue.

"The decision is too late for many who have lost their loves and the bereaved families who have lost loved ones.

"Our campaign has consistently raised concerns over the last nine years but nothing seems to improve. NSFT has broken its promises time and time again and has failed to deliver a safe and effective service.

"The people of Norfolk and Suffolk deserve better."

Eastern Daily Press: Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Picture: NSFTStuart Richardson, NSFT chief operating officer. Picture: NSFT (Image: Archant)

Bosses at the Trust say they accept the concerns raised in the inspection and are determined to turn things around, this time.

Stuart Richardson, chief executive, said: "We fully accept the findings of the report and know we need to improve and do so quickly.

"Our focus has to be on how we make sure we meet the requirements of the CQC's action plan and make continuous improvements.

"I absolutely apologise to the staff who feel they have not been given the tools they need to do their jobs and it is clear we have not delivered the people of Norfolk and Suffolk the level of care they deserve - and for that we are sorry."

Eastern Daily Press: Zoe Billingham, chair of NSFTZoe Billingham, chair of NSFT (Image: Geoff Pugh Photography Limited)

Zoe Billingham, the Trust's new chairman, said: "NSFT wants to provide quality specialist mental health care.

"Where we have made successful improvements, this has been in partnership with patients, services users and of course our staff – and we must now replicate this approach in all areas.

“We are determined to make the required changes with pace and focus.”

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch NorfolkAlex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk (Image: HWN)

Alex Stewart. chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: "We are sad to hear the news of the CQC rating. The staff at NSFT are working incredibly hard caring for and treating patients and we understand this will be upsetting for those who work at the sharp end of patient care.

"It is encouraging that senior figures in the Trust are acknowledging publicly there is work to do and moving forwards. Healthwatch Norfok will be working constructively with the Trust and patients to help with this."

Timeline of turmoil

The NSFT has endured turbulent times in the past decade, with care regulators placing it in special measures on four separate occasions...

January 2012

The Trust is formed by a merger of Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust with Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

February 2013

"Radical redesign" of mental health services is announced - it leads to the loss of 400 jobs and a 20pc reduction in bed numbers

November 2013

Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk launches

January 2014

Out-of-area placements increase by 750pc and the Trust sets a four month deadline to end the practice

June 2014

Michael Scott succeeds Aidan Thomas as Trust CEO

February 2015

Trust becomes the first in the country to be placed into special measures

October 2017

It is taken out of special measures, but still requires improvement

August 2017

Damning report from Healthwatch Norfolk lays bare the grievances of 680 patients

October 2017

Trust enters special measures for the second time and private provider Mundesley Hospital is closed down

September 2017

Chief executive Michael Scott leaves with immediate effect

December 2017

Private provider Ashcroft Centre in Wicklewood, a specialist unit for women's mental health, closes down

March 2018

A further 36 beds are lost, with bosses blaming staffing levels and unsafe environments

April 2018

Trust sets itself a target of 2021 to end all out of area placements

May 2018

Antek Lejk appointed chief executive, a role he holds until March 2019

Eastern Daily Press: Antek Lejk, the new chief officer at South Norfolk CCG.Antek Lejk, the new chief officer at South Norfolk CCG. (Image: Archant)

November 2018

Placed into special measures for a third time

March 2019

Jonathan Warren, then improvement director, is appointed chief executive.

October 2020

Jonathan Warren announces his intention to retire in March 2021

December 2020

Mason Fitzgerald is appointed as the Trust's new chief executive and is due to start at the end of March 2021

Eastern Daily Press: Mason Fitzgerald has been appointed new chief executive of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.Mason Fitzgerald has been appointed new chief executive of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. (Image: NSFT)

January 2021

"Significant improvements" acknowledged by the CQC, but Trust's rating does not change

March 2021

Mason Fitzgerald withdraws his application after allegations he had listed qualifications he did not possess. Stuart Richardson is announced as his successor.

September 2021

Stuart Richardson officially starts his role of chief executive

November 2021

CQC inspectors begin an assessment of Trust services, which will last two months

December 2021

The CQC issues a formal warning notice to the Trust ahead of its results being published

April 28, 2022

The Trust is downgraded by the CQC to inadequate, with it remaining in special measures