Mental Health: Number of unexpected deaths hits record level at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust

PUBLISHED: 17:01 26 May 2016 | UPDATED: 19:23 26 May 2016

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.  Photo: Bill Smith

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: Bill Smith

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The region’s mental health trust has put in place 13 of 16 recommendations from a report into the number unexpected patient deaths - but a father whose son died while in care said the steps do not go far enough.

Campaigners claim report fails to answer why death toll is rising

Mental health campaigners said the report did not address why the number of unexpected deaths at the trust has risen in recent years.

A spokesman for Campaign to Save NHS Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “We’re concerned the trust still lacks a sense of urgency around the number of unexpected deaths which continue to rise.

“There were 157 unexpected deaths in 2015/16 which is a disaster.”

And Lyn Gardenchild, who went to the mental health trust’s board meeting yesterday, told directors: “I’m appalled at the reams of paper and hours spent talking about something you have known - as though it’s new to you.

“You will have another board meeting and report back but what is actually being done? It’s a self perpetuating circle of meetings and talking but change isn’t happening.”

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) was criticised for the “inconsistency” of quality in its investigations into patient deaths but a report found the number of those deaths was not higher than the national average.

It comes after the trust recorded its highest amount of unexpected deaths in 2015/16, as 157 patients unexpectedly died.

Jon Higgins, the father of Christopher Higgins who killed himself while in care at the trust’s Fermoy Unit in King’s Lynn, said: “You can have wonderful reports and tremendous follow-ups but there’s not enough money spent on prevention.

“Talk is cheap, but having extra staff is expensive.”

His comments came as Mr Scott said he would be raising concerns with NHS England about the lack of national data available on unexpected deaths, which limits making meaningful comparisons on trusts’ performance.

Mr Scott said it was “a scandal” that data recording was better at acute hospitals than mental health trusts.

He said the final three recommendations of the report, by Verita, would be in place by August.

Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said the lack of national data had left him feeling like he was “operating in a fog” when he was a health minister between 2012-15.

Mr Lamb, one of the people interviewed by Verita during their research, said: “There is absolutely a lack of data.

“Michael Scott has said he will raise this and I will support him on that one. There needs to be comparable data so that we know how trusts compare with each other.”

He said NSFT should be ambitious in its approach to preventing unexpected deaths, and urged the trust to examine the ‘Zero Suicide’ system, which has been used in parts of USA to reduce the number of suicides.

The approach aims to prevent suicides by creating a more open environment for people to talk about suicidal thoughts and enabling others to help them.

It has been used to some effect on Merseyside, and is also being explored in Peterborough, Devon, and Cornwall, Mr Lamb said.

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