Concern over pressure on mental health staff in Norfolk because of high caseloads

Hellesdon Hospital.

Hellesdon Hospital. - Credit: Archant © 2012

Mental health chiefs have insisted they have a plan to tackle high caseloads after it emerged that almost 400 patients in Norfolk were waiting to be assigned to a community worker.

Concerns were raised about pressures on staff after officials from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) admitted that some patients were waiting too long to see a mental health worker in central Norfolk.

The NHS trust's board of directors was yesterday told that higher than predicted demand for adult community services in the Norwich, North Norfolk and South Norfolk areas and low staffing levels had resulted in 379 cases out of 2,579 awaiting to be allocated to a named worker.

The meeting heard that in central Norfolk, demand for services was 140pc more than planned when the trust's redesign of services was formed and the area had 20pc less staff than originally planned because of a voluntary redundancy programme.

Kathy Chapman, director of operations for Norfolk and Waveney, said there were currently around 40 cases for every qualified member of staff and the average wait for adults to see a community worker was 50 days. However, in Suffolk the mental health case load was around 30 for every member of staff, directors were told.

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She added that plans were in place to increase community mental health team staffing in central Norfolk and to speed up the discharge of patients who no longer needed the trust's services.

Directors were told that the mental health trust had secured an extra £500,000 from Clinical Commissioning Groups in Norfolk to help hire new staff to meet demand. It comes after NSFT officials announced last week that 269 of 412 vacancies would be filled in the next three months.

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Stuart Smith, non-executive director, said he was concerned about the emotional consequences of high caseloads on staff and patients.

'There is a great burden of unallocated cases and they are working as hard as possible to support people. I get the feeling that staff are at the end of their tether. Are they seeing light at the end of the tunnel or are they still feeling at the end of their tether?

'I am pleased to see improvement, but 2015 feels like a long way away and that has made me nervous,' he said.

However, Graham Creelman, deputy chairman, said the 379 figure was 'painting a picture that is worse than it is' because some of the unallocated cases were waiting for an ADHD appointment, had recently been referred, or were waiting to be transferred to a named worker.

Gary Page, chairman, added: 'This is the most stressed part of the service across the entire trust. It is clear there is a plan in place to deal with recruitment and we know there is progress there. We are focusing on people who are ready to be discharged. We should not be lowering the bar for people that are suitable for discharge. People need to feel that there is light at the end of the tunnel and my sense is that I am not getting that feeling with my discussions with staff.'

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