‘Shock’ over mental health bed closures

Intensive care beds at an Ipswich mental health ward are likely to stay closed until the autumn, it can be revealed.

Peter Devlin, Operations director for mental health and learning disabilities (Suffolk) at Norfolk a

Peter Devlin, Operations director for mental health and learning disabilities (Suffolk) at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust Picture: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

Question marks surround the future of Lark Ward at Woodlands, Suffolk’s only psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU), which is currently shut to admissions due to “unsafe staffing levels”.

Bosses at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) decided to completely close all 10 beds on the ward in April until vacancies were filled.

But now it has emerged that it is unlikely to re-open until the autumn, despite an ongoing recruitment programme.

Documents prepared ahead of a health summit at Suffolk County Council also reveal the current number of mental health bed closures across the trust stands at 35 – and 27 of these are temporary.

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Reasons for the closures include ‘hot spots’ of low staffing levels and investments in environmental improvements – including new seclusion rooms and removing ligature risks.

“It is extraordinary that 21 of the 35 bed closures at NSFT are in Suffolk, including all of Suffolk’s intensive mental health care beds,” said representatives for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

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“This would never be allowed to happen in physical health.

“Closing wards because of staff shortages makes wards safer but does not make people left in the community safer.

They added: “The results of these closures are either refused or delayed admission with inadequate community support, or transportation miles away from family, friends and health professionals. We recently learnt of a young mother with a two-year-old who was sent to North Yorkshire – without her child – because there are simply not enough beds.”

Meanwhile, UNISON eastern region’s head of health Sasha Pearce said the organisation remains “deeply concerned” about the lack of mental health care beds in Suffolk, and added: “It is just shocking.”

NSFT have 144 beds in total, and a quarter of them are currently shut. Of the bed closures in Suffolk, 11 of them are at Carlton Court in Carlton Colville – again over staffing concerns.

Trust bosses said Lark Ward is a mixed-sex PICU and needs a higher staff-to-patient ratio.

The most acutely unwell patients have been cared for at the trust’s other PICU in Hellesdon, Norwich, or in similar units by other providers, they added.

Trust response

NSFT’s operations director for Suffolk has responded to concerns about bed closures.

Peter Devlin said: “The safety of our service users is always our principal consideration and we will not allow anything to compromise this.

“The main reasons for the bed closures have been a shortage of staff, which is a national issue, and the need to invest significant amounts of money on improving the environment and safety for patients, such as by providing single sex accommodation and removing ligature risks.

“Lark Ward is a mixed-sex PICU and, as such, it needs a higher staff-to-patient ratio to ensure we can provide more intensive treatment for the most acutely unwell patients for short-term admissions.

“As part of our recovery plan for the ward, we have been recruiting new staff and we anticipate that we will be in a position to reopen it in the autumn.

“During the temporary closure of the ward, the most acutely unwell patients have been cared for in the trust’s other PICU in Hellesdon, Norwich, or in similar units run by other providers.”

He also said NSFT had consolidated continuing care beds at Carlton Court into a single ward to maximise the safety of patients.

“We had been running both wards with reduced beds to ensure we had enough staff to operate safely, which is also why we consolidated all the beds on Laurel Ward on June 1,” he said.

“Having a single ward also means we’ve been able to open the unit to new admissions.”

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