Psychiatrist’s concerns at unexpected deaths

A consultant psychiatrist said he had concerns about patient safety at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust after it emerged that there have been 58 unexpected deaths of patients since April.

The mental health trust insist that the number of patient deaths so far in 2013/14 were in line with regional and national figures.

However, Laurence Mynors-Wallis, elected registrar of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said members' had serious concerns about the impact of cuts at NSFT on patient safety. The college has written to health regulator, the Care Quality Commission, over the concerns of doctors and psychiatrists at the mental health trust.

'The college had concerns because our members and consultant psychiatrists raised concerns in Norfolk because there were very swingeing proposals to cut doctors numbers by a third. The trust have backed down on those plans, but we wonder whether they are holding fire,' he said.

Between April and October, NSFT received 58 reports of unexpected deaths of mental health patients across Norfolk and Suffolk, according to new figures from a Freedom of Information request. For the whole of 2012/12, there were 88 unexpected deaths.

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Dr Mynors-Wallis added: 'The more engaged your doctors are with the trust, the safer it is likely to be. There are a group of doctors who feel disengaged and disempowered at the trust.' 'When they raise concerns about patient safety, they are accused of shroud waving and they [the trust] just dismiss it. There have been a lot of senior changes on the trust board. There has been a new chairman, the chief executive has been replaced and the director of nursing is going. They made these decisions and have all moved on before they see the affect of the decisions they made. Every single trust in the country is facing financial difficulties – that is no surprise – Norfolk and Suffolk is unique in the scale of the medical staff they were proposing to lose,' he said.

Emma Corlett, spokesman for the Unison Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust branch, added: 'The idea that high quality, safe care can be provided to the same number of patients with 18% fewer staff simply by working differently will, we believe, be shown to be a nonsense. In fact, demand for our service is rising, as the impact of the recession and welfare reforms takes its toll on the mental health of the citizens of Norfolk and Suffolk.'

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'There needs to be an acknowledgment that a 20% cut to mental health services has a disproportionate impact compared to acute hospital trusts. Our staff are doing their best, providing the best care that they can in the face of increasing caseloads, difficulty finding an in patient bed when one is needed, and saying goodbye to colleagues who are made redundant, wondering how on earth they are going to cover their work. Staff in many areas are reporting low morale.'

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