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Mental-health patients left in cells and secure unit

PUBLISHED: 11:42 10 December 2014 | UPDATED: 11:42 10 December 2014

Photo: Adrian Judd

Photo: Adrian Judd

Archant © 2005

A Norwich man with mental-health problems was kept in a police cell for more than 24 hours and then sent to a private hospital 175 miles away for two weeks because there were not any beds for him in East Anglia.

The trust runs Hellesdon Hospital.  Photo: Bill SmithThe trust runs Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith

Today, the man’s sister and brother tell the EDP of their sibling’s ordeal, as the practice of keeping mental health patients in police cells falls under more national scrutiny.

The 40-year-old, who is not being identified, had a breakdown on Friday, November 14.

His sister said he was driving around manically. “I phoned the police and I kept telling them where my brother was,” she added.

Officers arrested the man for a public order offence and he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Why a free man is still locked up

A 25-year-old man is being kept in a medium security mental health unit near Diss, almost four months after being told he was free.

A mental-health tribunal said on August 18 the Norwich man, who is not being identified, should be released within two months from St John’s House secure unit in Palgrave. A bed is waiting for him at a care home in Sprowston, but his father told the EDP he could not be released because a clinician had not been found for his son.

“They have not done what they were told by the tribunal,” he said. “He is a free man who is being locked up.”

The man has a history of mental-health problems and has been in and out of institutions since the age of 18.

He is stuck until St John’s and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) agree who should find the clinician for him.

The patient’s MP, Chloe Smith, said; “I am very concerned at the delays he has experienced and I have written to the

chief executive of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust [Michael Scott] to raise the case and try to help cut through the bureaucracy.

“I have asked Mr Scott to investigate the case and I also raised it with him at the MPs’ meeting on Monday.

“Although this is the only case of its type that I am aware of in my constituency, I have helped many constituents over time with detailed and specific cases where they have not got the mental health service they need.”

NSFT medical director Dr Hadrian Ball said: “We can’t discuss individual cases but we are working to ensure the most appropriate clinical service is in place.”

But there were no beds for him at Hellesdon Hospital so he was kept in a police cell in Wymondham until Saturday midnight.

An ambulance then drove him 175 miles to a private hospital near Brighton for two weeks.

“He did not receive any medication or treatment until he got to Brighton,” his brother said.

His family said the Brighton hospital acted as a “holding centre” and he was given drugs to sedate him.

Mental-health trust’s dire finances revealed

The EDP can today reveal the true scale of cash problems at the region’s mental-health provider, which is set to run up a deficit of more than £5m by the end of this financial year.

A leaked document shows the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s (NSFT) deficit was £2.3m in October and another £4m of savings, needed by the end of March, are yet to be identified.

The finance report also reveals:

n Spending on agency staff is topping £2m every month;

n £15m spent so far this financial year on agency staff (same period last year was £8.79m);

n Cash held by trust forecast to be “significantly below” original plan by end of year.

The NSFT is being investigated by health regulator Monitor for its growing budget deficit.

The trust has put the leap in spending down to the costs of temporary staff rocketing by 70pc. Under the trust’s savings plans, 213 staff either took redundancy or were made redundant last year, leaving the NSFT dependent on more expensive agency workers.

It has already spent almost as much this financial year on agency workers as in the whole of last financial year.

Another £1.43m has been

spent on sending patients to beds out of area (see main article) – a widely-criticised practice on which the trust is cutting back.

The trust was planning for a cashflow surplus of £7.3m this financial year, but is now forecasting a loss of £11.2m.

Director of finance Andrew Hopkins said: “Our financial position has moved further into the red at a time when we are doing our utmost to protect patient services, despite rising demand and falling income.

“This position further emphasises the funding gap that exists for mental health services compared to other parts of the health service.

“As a result, we are working with our regulator Monitor to look at how we put our finances back on a sounder footing.

“The financial challenges we face are by no means unique in the NHS but we are determined to work with our staff and our partners to deliver sustainable services.”

Last Thursday he was released.

“They were going to place him on a train to make his own way back to Norwich,” his brother said. “This was very alarming for us.”

After the family raised their concerns, the crisis team at Hellesdon Hospital organised an ambulance to collect him and bring him back to Norwich.

But with no mental-health beds available, they took him to his flat.

“He later told us that he spent all night wandering around the streets of Norwich” his brother said. “All through Friday he was in a very bad mental state – no better than before he was sent to Brighton – and it was a struggle for us to keep him safe.”

Hellesdon found a place for him on Friday night and he was let out on Monday.

His brother said the family was “amazed” he was let out as they still fear for his mental state.

“We know that the NHS is under huge budget constraints, especially the mental health sections, but we think that the level of care my brother has received so far is far from adequate,” the brother added.

The practice of keeping mental-health patients in police cells has been under scrutiny this week after the assistant chief constable of Devon and Cornwall spoke out
about a 16-year-old girl with
mental-health problems being placed in a cell because there were no beds for her.

Jane Sayer, director of nursing at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), said: “We regret having to send anyone out of our area. It’s not the best use of resources for the service user, their families, or our staff and we apologise to those concerned.”

In East Anglia, very few mental health patients are kept in cells compared to other forces.

In 2013-14 in Norfolk, police detained people 25 times in cells under the Mental Health Act.

The figure for Suffolk was 30 and for Cambridgeshire 100.

All three forces detained fewer people than the year before.

Dr Sayer added: “We are leading the way with our work with Norfolk police to put in place mental-health practitioners who can intervene earlier and try and prevent the need for section 136 to be used.

But those figures do not account for mental-health patients who are arrested for a criminal act.

Care minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the government was working to reduce the number of people detained under section 136 in police cells, adding it could not be justified in a civilised society.

Norfolk police’s chief inspector of harm reduction, Amanda Ellis, said all officers were now receiving a day’s training on dealing with people with mental health issues. She added the force had a very strong relationship with the NSFT and it was very rare for mental health patients to be kept in police cells.

“Less than 10pc of people taken in under section 136 are put in custody,” she said.

Last Wednesday, NHS England announced Norfolk and Suffolk would run a trial scheme from April in which mental-health workers will be placed in police stations and courts.

Assistant Chief Constable David Skevington, who is the mental health lead for both Norfolk and Suffolk Police, said: “We have been working hard to help raise awareness of mental-health within the force and we work with a number of partner agencies to ensure that we treat people who have mental health conditions in the appropriate manner, getting them the help and support they need.”

Do you have a health story? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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