Mental health boss brands rejection of funding as ‘utterly indefensible’ as governors raise concern over recruitment figures

NSFT chairman Gary Page. Photo: NSFT

NSFT chairman Gary Page. Photo: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

A mental health boss has hit out and branded it 'utterly indefensible' that a bid for more than £5m which would be used to address safety concerns was snubbed by the government.

This newspaper revealed last week that a £5.2m bid put in by Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) had been knocked back by the Department of Health, even though some of the work had already been carried out.

The costs would now have to be met from NSFT's already squeezed budget, which estimates the trust will finish the financial year at a £800,000 deficit.

But at a meeting of the organisation's council of governors in Ipswich on Thursday, chairman Gary Page said the rejection was 'not acceptable'.

He said: 'It was utterly indefensible that a trust in special measures is being told by the CQC it has to fix things and NHSI (NHS Improvement) encouraged us to apply for the money and it then gets deferred.'

Hellesdon Hospital, NSFT headquarters. Photo: NSFT

Hellesdon Hospital, NSFT headquarters. Photo: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

MORE: No more money - Mental health trust snubbed in £5m bid for safety cash

He added: 'It's not acceptable and we have made that very clear to them.'

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Mr Page said he had made his views known during a meeting with NHS Improvement - the regulator which oversees trusts and is sent in when they are rated inadequate - this week.

The money would have gone towards fixing issues highlighted by inspectors when they put NSFT into special measures in October, and the trust will be reapplying for the funding in 2018/19.

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Meanwhile, governors also discussed the frontline staffing crisis which has prompted bed closures at NSFT.

The trust has resorted to offering golden hellos of £10,000 for senior doctors and £3,000 for Band 5 nurses to fill hard-to-recruit posts.

The welcome packages are available for 14 doctors and 15 nurses in Norfolk eight doctors and 41 nurses in Suffolk.

MORE: Mental health trust boss says 36 beds closed since autumn were necessary for patient safety

This could potentially mean £220,000 being paid out to new doctors, and a further £168,000 to nurses, to entice them to work in the region.

The clinical shortages have resulted in bed closures across the region, most recently including seven at the Lark Ward in Ipswich.

In Norfolk and Waveney there were closures at St Catherine's Way Ward, in Gorleston, Carlton Court, in Carlton Colville, Northgate Hospital, in Great Yarmouth, and Hellesdon Hospital, in Norwich.

Interim chief executive Julie Cave previously stressed that 28 of the total 36 closures were temporary and said there were a number of reasons for the decisions, including the need to increase staffing levels.

But governors accused bosses of trying to hide the scale of the recruitment problem.

Documents released ahead of the meeting said the trust's overall vacancy rate of 9.2pc, within clinical services this was 10.6pc.

They said: 'These are the lowest levels of vacancies in a considerable period of and are well below the average for mental health trusts of 13.7pc, however, there are significant variations by locality, service lines and by professional group.'

Clare Smith, staff governor, said: 'If our vacancy rate is so low and way above average for mental health trusts, why is our performance so poor and why have I heard a lot of times that we have real trouble with staff retainment and recruitment?'

Mr Page admitted there was 'big variances' underneath the headline figures.

The meeting was told NSFT's registered nursing vacancy rate is currently at 16pc, and it's medical staff vacancy rate is 17pc.

Marcus Hayward, staff governor, said: 'These are going into the public domain and the perception is we are trying to hide the real problem.'

Ms Smith added: 'Would it not be more helpful to provide us with the slightly more detailed and less misleading figures?'

Anne Humphrys, carer governor for Suffolk, said: 'To give an example would be that Suffolk Access and Assessment team for children and young people have all left and that resulted in a significant backlog of cases, so it's really important for us to understand that next layer.'

​Ian Hartley, public governor for Suffolk, added: 'I did think it was particularly misleading to make comparisons with others trusts to say we are doing well.'

Mr Page said board members were aware the vacancy figures needed to be made clearer in documents.

He said: 'As a board we have discussed this, that we need to look at that next level down because if we look at that headline number you get a green but that is false assurance.'

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