An extra 10,000 people need our mental health service but funding is being cut by another £36 million

Referrals to our mental health services are soaring while funding and staff are being slashed.

Referrals to our mental health services are soaring while funding and staff are being slashed. - Credit: Archant

An increase in stress, anxiety and depression are thought to be among the reasons behind an extra 10,286 referrals to Suffolk and Norfolk's mental health trust over the last five years.

The number of children and adults referred into the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has gone up from 34,288 in 2010/11 to 44,574 in 2014/15, revealed in figures released to the East Anglian Daily Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

At a time when more people are being referred into the trust, it is looking to make £36 million in 'efficiency savings' over the next four years.

Child referrals have gone up by 3,048, while those for adults have risen by 7,238.

Ezra Hewing, community development manager at the charity Suffolk Mind, said the figures mirrored an increase in stress, anxiety and depression, which has been seen in studies right across the UK.

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He said pressures at work, on relationships, on people's finances, and worrying about 'unmet physical and emotional needs', were the root causes of the problems.

Bohdan Solomka, medical director at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said the national trend for increased demand for mental health services could also be linked with early intervention and a reduced stigma associated with mental health.

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He also said changes to the social care services available for children, coupled with schools becoming more aware of children's mental health needs, was another possible influence.

Mr Hewing said: 'Target-driven culture is one of the biggest causes of stress, anxiety and depression in schools, workplaces and health services, and that never gets mentioned.'

He said Suffolk Mind had witnessed a rise in people facing these issues, either through individuals approaching the charity or workplaces needing support and training in how to address these problems.

Mr Hewing said: 'If we have a concern, it's that people right from school age up to adulthood need to have better information about how to manage their mental health and emotional wellbeing so they can take the lead on doing that themselves, and the support to enable them to work through any rough patches in their lives.'

Fears over children's mental health

Christopher Leaman, policy and public relations manager for the national charity YoungMinds, said there was no definitive reason for children and young people presenting with increased mental health difficulties, but factors to consider included the pressure of growing up in an online, 24/7 society, the economic downturn, family breakdown and generally society having an increasingly negative attitude to young people.

He added: 'Report after report seems to indicate we are seeing an increase in children and young people suffering with mental illness.

'The last official survey conducted by the Government that gave us a true picture of the state of children's mental health was in 2004.

'We welcome the fact that the Government has committed to conducting this survey again, it has been too long incoming and we must see a regular commitment to monitoring the state of children's mental health in the nation.'

Mr Hewing said while less funding for services across the board was an issue, target-driven culture within the health service 'prevents working with the person in front of them'.

Mr Solomka added: 'Our primary concern is the quality and safety of our services. Our trust has been clear that it will not compromise on safety and quality in order to save money. We are doing what we can, whenever we can to help alleviate pressures, as demand for our services steadily increases.

'Our trust is championing the issue of funding for mental health services both locally and nationally, with the aim to see it come more in line with other NHS funding levels.'

Tony Goldson, cabinet member for health at Suffolk County Council, said mental health was 'very high' on the council's agenda, adding that a strategy is being developed for adult mental health in Suffolk for the next five years.

He said the groups working together on this included the county council, Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), West Suffolk CCG, Suffolk Constabulary and service users, families and the voluntary sector.

'Completely unsustainable'

The large increase in referrals at a time of cuts has been described as 'completely unsustainable'.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's financial position is likely to be discussed at a meeting of the organisation today.

Emma Corlett, representative at the trust for UNISON, said Norfolk and Suffolk was 'massively underfunded'and the increase in referrals had created a situation 'that's completely unsustainable'.

She added: 'I'm not surprised by the figures. That's certainly what staff are feeling.'

Bohdan Solomka, medical director at the trust, said it was championing the issue of funding for mental health services and aimed to see it come more in line with other NHS funding levels.

He added: 'We have invested £2.6m into recruiting more staff into inpatient units and we recently agreed an investment of just under £1m (£950,000) into the recruitment of additional community staff.

'We do all of this in the face of chronic under-funding of mental health services and these life-saving services remain the 'Cinderella' of the NHS. We are determined to continue to campaign for increased funding.

'We will do everything we can to protect frontline services and we will look to make savings by more efficiently managing our estates and back office functions, wherever possible.'

Following an inquiry by the regulator Monitor after a deterioration in the trust's financial position, it agreed to 'develop an ambitious and realistic financial recovery plan'.

Monitor found Norfolk and Suffolk had breached its licence to provide healthcare services on a sustainable basis by predicting a £9.4m deficit for 2015/16 and by not having an 'adequate recovery plan'.

The trust was also recently placed into special measures to improve the quality of its patient services. An improvement director is in place and the trust is partnering with the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

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