Staffing levels and unsafe environments were among the reasons for the closure of 36 beds at the region's beleaguered mental health trust over the last few months, it can be revealed.

Speaking at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust's (NSFT) board of directors meeting today, the organisation's outgoing chief executive Julie Cave assured the public staff and patient safety were at the heart of the bed closures.

But she revealed there had been 36 beds lost since the autumn - 28 of which were temporary.

The latest closures came yesterday when it was announced Lark Ward - a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Woodlands, based at Ipswich Hospital - would close from April 6 due to staff shortages.

The number of beds available on the ward had already been reduced from 10 to seven in October.

Other temporary closures included:

• St Catherine's Way Ward, Gorleston, a short-term, rehabilitation service for patients preparing for discharge. All six beds were closed in the autumn because of concerns about staffing levels and the building not being fit for purpose as an inpatient unit.

• Carlton Court, Carlton Colville, which offers care for older people. Nine out of a total of 22 beds on Foxglove and Laurel Wards are closed to admissions because of concerns about staffing levels.

• Suffolk Rehabilitation and Recovery Service (SRRS), Ipswich. Three of the 10 beds have been closed to enable environmental improvements to be made and are due to reopen in late May.

Elsewhere eight beds have been closed permanently. These were at :

• Acute Services, Northgate Hospital, Great Yarmouth. Two out of 20 beds have been closed to enable a seclusion facility to be built.

• Glaven and Waveney Wards (Adult Acute), Hellesdon Hospital, Norwich. Six out of a total of 40 beds have been closed in order to remove shared bays.

Mrs Cave stressed that 28 of the closures were temporary and said there were a number of reasons for the closures, including the need to increase staffing levels and to invest significant amounts of money on improving the environment and safety for patients, such as by providing single sex accommodation and removing ligature risks.

She said: 'The safety of our service users and patients is always our principal consideration and we will never in any circumstances allow anything to compromise this.

'These closures are in the best interests of patients.

'We are working with our local CCGs about the closures which are part of our quality improvement agenda, and they have all been fully supportive.

'Levels of staffing are continuously monitored and we have taken steps to mitigate the pressures on our beds.'

NSFT was warned by inspectors last year that it did not have enough staff or enough beds, when it was plunged into special measures.

Mrs Cave said the trust was working hard on recruiting additional staff and looking at different staffing models. In addition, the trust had also reduced the amount of time it was taking to recruit staff into post.

She said NSFT was closely monitoring on a daily basis how the closures were affecting services and so far there had not been any significant impact.

She added: 'I and this board would not support keeping services open that are just not up to our safe staffing or wider safety standards.

'We have clear mitigation plans in place relating to every bed closure to ensure we are offering support to patients within other trust services or other local beds.

'And all of this is being managed in a controlled and considered way keeping those patient and staff safety issues at the forefront if every decision we are making.'