Mental health trust grapples with problem of one in three staff leaving within 12 months of joining

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. - Credit: Archant © 2012

One in three staff who join the region's mental health trust leaves again in less than 12 months, it has emerged.

Meanwhile, levels of stress, anxiety, and depression among workers at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is higher than any other mental health trust in the east of England.

The problems, which campaigners say have been caused by 'chaotic cuts', were discussed at a meeting of NSFT's board of directors yesterday.

Central Norfolk and Great Yarmouth are the two worst affected areas of staff leaving less than a year after joining, while the issue is also impacting on the Norfolk Recovery Partnership, which helps adults with drug and alcohol problems.

Overall, 32pc of staff leave the trust less than a year after joining (known as fringe turnover) against a target of 25pc. And 27pc of staff off sick are suffering from either anxiety, stress, or depression.

Leigh Howlett, a trust director, said the fringe turnover figure included 24 staff on fixed-term contracts who were expected to leave.

She added the number had decreased since April this year and said reasons for leaving so soon included relocation, better pay and benefits, and an improved work/life balance.

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Addressing the long-term sickness problem, she recognised staff were under 'a huge amount of pressure as a result of an increasing demand on services'.

Campaigners say chaotic cuts cause staff problems

The leaked Alexander Report and NHS Staff Surveys have shown the tremendous pressures on NSFT staff, particularly in Central Norfolk, caused by the disastrous 'radical redesign', a spokesman for Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said.

'The loss of funding and experienced staff as a result of those chaotic cuts has never been fully corrected.

'Many staff are leaving or seeing their own health suffer because there simply aren't enough professionals to deliver services safely for patients or themselves.

'While the trust is finally beginning to recognise the value of its own staff, nursing bursaries have been abolished nationally and local commissioners have yet to fund mental health properly.

'NSFT is a people business and needs an experienced HR professional on its main board.'

Clive Lewis, the MP for Norwich South, also waded into the debate - saying he wanted local NHS leaders to 'shout more loudly from the rooftops' over funding.

'After years of papering over the cracks, we're increasingly hearing local senior NHS managers say the previously unsayable.

'In plain English the trust's director is saying 'our staff are overwhelmed and are being asked to do a impossible job'.

'As the chief executive of our local ambulance service put it so well when he came to parliament to speak to MPs: ''We don't have the money to provide the services we are expected to provide'.

'All of our senior local NHS managers need to shout exactly this from the rooftops to pressurise this government to properly fund our local NHS.'

Full trust response

Leigh Howlett, NSFT's director of resources and strategy, insisted staff retention was a 'top prior-ity' for the trust.

She said, within the past 12 months, 25 nurses and three other medical staff left after less than a year in post.

Another 40 departures were non-clinical staff.

'We fully recognise that, as in other NHS organisa-tions, our staff are under pressure as a result of an increasing demand on services,' she added.

An internal review has been set up to scrutinise the trust's staff induction process, managers are being given extra leader-ship training, and new roles have been created such as nursing associates and nurse prescribers to offer more opportunities to workers.

Ms Howlett said the trust's human resources department carried out monthly checks of fringe turnover for each area, with 'action plans put in place when recurring issues are identified'.

She said some percent-ages appeared high yet in reality were low numbers.

An example of this is the Norfolk Recovery Partnership - where three of six departing staff had joined just 12 months earlier.

And of 49 newly qualified nurses only six have left the trust, Ms Howlett said.

Addressing the long-term sickness problem, she recognised that staff are under 'a huge amount of pressure as a result of an

increasing demand on services'.

She said the trust now provided independent and confidential counselling services, and offers train-ing to help staff adopt

techniques to take care of themselves or colleagues at times of pressure or stress.

'We encourage our staff to support each other in the workplace and have appointed 90 'Wellbeing Champions' – staff members with a particular interest in health and well-being, and who organise events and encourage team building.'

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