The region’s mental health service has apologised after sending a letter to more than 300 young people telling them they were taking them off the waiting list because of coronavirus.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) admitted today it never should have sent the letter.

It read that patients would no longer be getting any more appointments and told them that their referrals had been closed.

The letter said that because of coronavirus “our service is not able to support everybody in the way that it used to”. Instead it offered them a phone call to get advice.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “The coronavirus crisis is a reason to put people on mental health waiting lists, not take them off them.”

Eastern Daily Press: Diane Hull, chief nurse at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo: NSFTDiane Hull, chief nurse at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo: NSFT (Image: Pagepix Ltd 07976 935738)

It comes as its centre for young people at 80 St Stephens Road in Norwich was slammed by inspectors.

The NSFT said the two issues - the letter and the inspection at St Stephens - were not linked.

Diane Hull, chief nurse at NSFT, said: “This letter should not have been sent to young people living in Norfolk and Waveney. We are truly sorry for the distress this caused.

“We are contacting each of those young people and their families to make sure they get the support they need.

“We are assuring them that they do not have to go back to their GP to access our services and that we are accepting new referrals.”

One 19-year old from Norfolk told BBC Look East that she was “heartbroken” when she got the letter.

She said she felt the NSFT was using coronavirus as an excuse to cut their waiting list, after a critical inspection by inspectors. The NSFT denied this.

An inspection by regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in October last year and February 2020, which has now been published, raised a litany of concerns with the service.

It said young people on waiting lists are not always adequately monitored or supported and waiting lists were “confusing” and “ineffective”.

“Staff admitted they had significant concerns that they could not manage caseloads safely and that patients were not always being seen according to their need or risk,” it added.

Inspectors also said the building at 80 St Stephens Road was not well maintained and the décor was “shabby”.

“Internet access at the time of the inspection was not reliable which meant that patient records were not always accessible,” they added.

In response, Mrs Hull said: “We welcome the reports from the CQC. Before the unannounced visit, we had robust rapid improvement plans in place and had already made significant changes to support patients and staff.

“We have made specific improvements in the last three months in 80 St Stephens in Norwich, to provide better services.

“Our children and young people’s services in Norwich have increased, with new initiatives planned to better deliver services to people Norfolk and Waveney through direct contact or online webchats.

“The senior clinical team have also assessed 1,064 children and young people who have been waiting and are contacting people to make sure they have the most appropriate mental health services for them.

“We know there is lots more to do and we continue to work with our teams to ensure that improvements continue to be made at pace. We remain committed to improving the services we provide for all our patients.”