Norfolk mental health call centre set to hire extra staff to cope with demand

Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith

Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

Mental health chiefs in Norfolk are set to begin a recruitment drive after being surprised by the volume of patient referrals to a new service.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) started its access and assessment service almost a year ago to create a singe point of contact for GPs across the county.

But the mental health trust is looking to boost staffing numbers at its call centre at Hellesdon Hospital after missing referral targets.

The organisation, which has been redesigning services over the last two years, is looking to hire two band 6 level staff and two band 5 level staff to extend the opening hours of the service from five days a week to six.

The creation of access and assessment teams in Hellesdon, Great Yarmouth, and Suffolk form a key part of NSFT's redesign of services as it looks to reduce its budget by 20pc, which has led to around 400 staff leaving the organisation.

In the first working week of 2014, the Norfolk access and assessment team received 119 referrals. The team made contact with all of its four hour emergency referrals, but missed 45 urgent referrals for patients needing assessment within 72 hours.

Between January 13 and January 19, the service received 104 referrals, but recorded no breaches because staff worked extra hours on the Saturday.

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Hadrian Ball, medical director, said the access and assessment service was 'crucial' to the trust's redesign of services. He added that the trust was struggling to meet all the 72 hour urgent referrals made on a Friday and was establishing an extra shift on Saturdays to reduce the backlog.

'We were surprised by the demand. What we had before was link workers who were attached to a number of practices. Access and assessment is a single point of access where they [GPs] can hand cases over and not spend long periods of time finding a phone number for the right service.

'Specialists say their core role is managing the care for people with really serious illnesses like schizophrenia and bi polar and GPs' want mental health to focus on 'worried-well' - people who are struggling to manage their life events. With the contact of access and assessment, they can refer all of those cases and there is not any evidence that really serious mental illnesses are increasing.

'We are working with commissioners about access and assessment and our primary focus is for access and assessment to be working to maximum capacity and maximum efficiency,' he said.

There are currently 23 full-time staff that work for the access and assessment service in Hellesdon. The team is also set to get an upgraded telephone system by the summer.

Have you experienced delays in getting a mental health referral? Email health correspondent Adam Gretton at

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