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Number of deaths at Norfolk and Suffolk mental health service surges

PUBLISHED: 07:18 27 November 2015 | UPDATED: 09:00 27 November 2015

Mental health. Pictured: A woman suffering from depression is consoled by her friend in a playground. Picture: Newscast Online

Mental health. Pictured: A woman suffering from depression is consoled by her friend in a playground. Picture: Newscast Online

Newscast Online

Campaigners say their “worst fears have been confirmed” after it emerged that the number of unexpected deaths of mental health patients in the region is continuing to rise.

Figures published by the region’s mental health trust show more patients died unexpectedly in the first half of this financial year than during the whole of 2012/13.

It comes a month after the EDP launched its Mental Health Watch campaign, and amid a government pledge of a £600million funding package to mental health services.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which runs mental health services in the two counties but is in special measures, says it is treating more patients than ever before and that its figures are in line with the national average. The term ‘unexpected deaths’ describes patients treated by the trust whose cause of death is not yet known.

In 2012/13 the trust reported 53 such deaths, but this figure rose to 105 in 2013/14. Last year there were 139 unexpected deaths and halfway into the 2015/16 financial year the number stands at 77.

A spokesman for Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk called for “decently funded” and “professionally managed” mental health services in the two counties. “These figures confirm our worst fears,” the spokesman said. “Would an increase of this kind be tolerated in physical health?

“If the second half of this year is as bad as the first half, three times as many people will die in 2015/16 compared to 2012/13.”

But Jane Sayer, director of nursing, quality, and patient safety at the trust, said: “We investigate the circumstances of each unexpected death to make sure that we did everything we could for the service user.

“Subsequently a number of unexpected deaths have been found to have been caused by natural causes, or an accident unrelated to the person’s mental health condition.”

One reason for the rise in 2013/14 could be explained by the trust taking on Norfolk Recovery Partnership, which provides services to people with substance and alcohol misuse problems, meaning those patients were at additional risk of death because of their addictions, she said.

Figures published by the trust also show it has reduced the number of patients sent out of area for treatment, which is often expensive and traumatic for patients.

Out-of-area bed days have fallen from 713 in May to 118 in October.

A former patient of the trust who was sent out-of-area for treatment this year said: “I found it isolating and frightening, and my condition deteriorated. The practice is unacceptable and counter-productive.”

Debbie White, director of operations for Norfolk and Waveney, said: “As the cost of using out-of-area beds was one of the main reasons for our present financial position, we anticipate that these steps will help significantly reduce our deficit.”

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