Mental health crisis hub delayed by a year as patients continue to be sent hundreds of miles for treatment

Churchman House, Norwich, which will become the wellbeig hub. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Churchman House, Norwich, which will become the wellbeig hub. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A crisis hub pegged to help stem the number of mental health patients sent miles away due to a lack of beds has been delayed by a year in part due to debates over the building it will be in.

A wellbeing hub - also known as a crisis cafe - was first proposed in April 2017 after a £58,000 review found the region's mental health trust, the failing Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), did not need any more beds if wellbeing hubs could support people in the community.

Health bosses have insisted the hubs would be about more than solving the beds issue, and would help take the pressure of ambulance crews, police and A&E for those who are in crisis by preventing them getting to that stage in the first place.

But a spokesman for Norfolk and Waveney's Clinical Commissioning Groups said: 'We expect that a wellbeing hub would help reduce demand in mental health beds and the pressures on secondary mental health services. It would also provide GPs with support to draw on when patients present with mental distress or mental ill health.'

Initially it was planned the first one would open in Norwich later in 2017 but nearly two years after the plans were first announced, it could still be more than 12 months before doors are opened .

An update presented to the Joint Strategic Commissioning Committee of the CCGs on Tuesday revealed Churchman House, in Bethal Street, Norwich, was identified as the base for the first hub in October 2017.

MORE: First glimpse at plans for crisis hubs aimed at tackling mental health bed shortage

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But since then 'a number of issues have arisen' and CCGs had appointed solicitors to act on their behalf, while property consultants Bidwells was still discussing the lease with Norwich City Council, which owns the building.

Meanwhile, it was revealed dozens of people were still being sent to hospitals at least 200km (124 miles) away – and five at least 300km (186 miles) away – over a three-month period last year. Between September 1 and November 30, there were 2,970 inappropriate bed days outside the NSFT's boundaries – treatment that should have been available locally – with placements costing £1.27m in total.

Documents presented to the committee said it would take a year for the building to be brought up to scratch. However this was a 'worst case scenario' and evening support could be opened by December 2020 and day time provision by April 2020.

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'We consider one out of area placement as one too many'

Commitments to stop sending patients away for treatment have been made before – in January 2014, NSFT bosses pledged to end OAPs within four months.

This target, and two others with goals of October 2017 and March 2018, were all missed – so a new one was set for 2021 in April last year.

Stuart Richardson, NSFT's chief operating officer, said in the past two months, no patient has been cared for outside of Suffolk and Norfolk for longer than 28 days.

'We do not want to send any patient who requires a bed out of area and we understand how distressing this can be for the person and for those close to them, especially at a vulnerable time,' he added.

'We consider one out of area placement as one too many and whenever this is unavoidable, we always strive to ensure that patients are treated as close to home as possible, and aim to repatriate them at the first available opportunity.'

Lack of beds costing '£500,000 a month'

Documents put before the committee on Tuesday also showed it had not yet been decided who would run the service, which would act as a cafe during the day for those who are socially isolated or need support, and in the evening would offer a safe environment for those with mental ill-health and mental distress.

But a spokesman from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said money would be better spent on improving existing services.

He said: 'The café proposal is part of a flawed and futile attempt to avoid addressing the real issues in mental health services - inadequate funding and poor commissioning of community services, crisis services and inpatient beds. Lack of mental health beds is currently costing the NHS more than £500,000 every month and cups of tea in a white elephant cuts café is not going to solve the problem.'

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