Unexpected deaths rise coincides with bed closures at region's mental health trust, Panorama finds
PUBLISHED: 08:25 07 February 2017 | UPDATED: 16:47 14 July 2017
A sharp rise in the number of mental health patients dying unexpectedly coincided with the responsible organisation cutting nearly a quarter of its inpatient beds.
Special investigations programme BBC Panorama, broadcast this evening, said the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) cut 136 psychiatric beds from 2012 onwards - even though demand continued to rise.
At the same time - as highlighted previously by this newspaper - the number of unexpected deaths has risen sharply.
An unexpected death is classed as one where the cause could not be anticipated. It can be suicide, natural causes, a physical illness or an accident and includes anyone who has been treated by the trust in the six months before their death.
A graph from NSFT shows the number of unexpected deaths per 100,000 patients rose from around 90 to around 140 between 2013-2016.
In 2013 NSFT embarked on a “radical redesign”, cutting services while saving million of pounds.
NSFT governor Sheila Preston, whose son Leo died unexpectedly while in the care of the trust, told Panorama: “Before the changes (the radical redesign), Leo was seen at least once a week.
“After the changes I asked his nurse and she hadn’t seen him for four weeks.”
Panorama also reported that the number of unexpected patient deaths reported by mental health trusts in England has risen sharply by almost 50pc in three years.
It reported that funding for mental health services nationally has dropped by £150m, though the government disputed this.
Latest statistics from NSFT show 140 patients suffered “unexpected deaths” from April to December last year – the first three of four quarters of the 2016/17 financial year.
‘A devastating expose of the failure of mental health services’ - Campaigners
Those involved in Monday night’s Panorama show, which focused on failings at the region’s mental health trust, said they spoke out to show how bad services had become.
Sheila Preston was featured on the BBC One show after her son Leo, who was being treated by the NSFT, died from a suspected accidental overdose late last year.
“I felt that I had to inform people of what I consider is happening concerning the care of mentally ill people,” she said after the programme was broadcast.
Emma Corlett, a former nurse at the NSFT, who also featured on the show, said services should not have been allowed to have got into such a state when MPs and mental health professionals had known for years the problems faced by the NSFT.
A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the BBC show was a “devastating exposé of the failure of mental health services”.
Michael Scott, chief executive of NSFT, said: “It is with great disappointment that on viewing the Panorama programme we noted that NSFT was the only trust presented as an example of the difficult issues being faced throughout the country in mental health services.
“It was also noted that no positive examples of the excellent care our staff provides were used within the programme and that little focus was given to the improvements that have been made in our trust in more recent times.
“But we are concerned, first and foremost, with the potentially negative affect this will have upon our local service users and carers and upon our staff.
“I can give our staff no greater personal testament other than to say if a member of my family needed mental health services, I would have no hesitation in placing them in the care of the staff at NSFT.
“Our staff do the very best job that they can every day for local service users, carers and families, under the immense pressures which are facing the NHS and mental health services right across the country.
“Their dedication in helping to turn our trust around is ceaseless and we remain extremely proud of what they have achieved so far.
“Our trust has recognised that it has made mistakes in the past and made decisions - some of them many years ago - that still have an effect upon our staff, upon our service users and upon those who care for them.
“For those mistakes, once again, our board offers its most sincere apologies.
“We may still not get everything right all of the time, but we are a different organisation to the one we used to be.
“Looking to the future, the safety of our services remains paramount and central to how this trust will continue to operate.
“We need to continue to raise the bar on quality and there is still work to be done.
“We have not ignored that, nor are we afraid to face it. And we are in the best place we have been in many years in order to achieve this.
Mr Scott referred to comments by England’s previous chief inspector of hospitals, Professor Sir Mike Richards, when the trust was brought out of special measures in October last year – when Professor Richards said: “The trust leadership knows what it must do now to ensure those changes take place.”
Mr Scott pointed to the trust’s overall rating by the Care Quality Commission (“requires improvement”) which “puts us alongside the majority of other NHS mental health trusts in England”.
“We have clear plan of action on how to achieve further improvements, but none of this will happen overnight,” Mr Scott said.
“Of course we take any immediate actions where possible, but it will take years of steady improvement to fully embed the changes that are being made now.
“Perhaps most significantly the programme reflects what we have been championing for some time at NSFT – mental health is as important as physical health and to raise one above the other is to ignore the person you are caring for.
“It causes an imbalance which has a serious effect upon the health of your community and, ultimately, the health of the nation.”
If you feel like you need someone to talk to about any problems you may be facing you can call Samaritans for free on 116 123.
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