Suffolk leaders demand mental health overhaul amid bed closures
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has called for managers of the region's mental health trust to be replaced after news emerged about vital bed closures.
Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) announced last week that it was having to shut 36 beds due to lack of staffing and urgent building maintenance.
The trust will close Suffolk’s only psychiatric intensive care beds at the Woodlands unit in Ipswich on Friday until workforce problems can be resolved.
Campaigners say this move will increase pressure on the resources in Norfolk and is likely to see vulnerable patients sent out of area for care.
Julie Cave, outgoing NSFT chief executive, said there were 9.5 full-time nursing vacancies on the Lark Ward.
She said: “Our trust-wide vacancy rate has been on a largely downward trend over the past 12 months but, in common with most other mental health providers and NHS organisations, there are areas where we find it difficult to recruit key staff, such as Lark Ward.
“We are focused on recruiting high quality staff as soon as possible and the ward will reopen when they are in post.”
Families and carers are being updated, Mrs Cave said.
Three of the 10 beds at Suffolk Rehabilitation and Recovery Service have also been shut for “environmental improvements” and are due to reopen in late May.
The other closures are in Norfolk.
Mr Martin said: “There is a real need to ensure the trust gets the funding it needs – and for a change in management. I would like to see another trust take it over for a couple of years to get it into shape.”
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dr Dan Poulter said he was planning to raise the issue in Parliament as an adjournment debate.
Dr Poulter, who also works part-time in the NHS, said: “The trust has found itself in a the middle of a perfect storm. It is suffering from budget constraints because it has not been getting the increased funds that it needs and it is struggling to recruit and retain staff.”
Mr Martin said he would speak at any adjournment debate called by Dr Poulter.
Richard Watson from Suffolk’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) said spending on mental health would increase from £93 million in 2014/15 to £115m in 2018/19 in line with national guidance.
‘Patient recovery compromised’
Healthwatch Suffolk has expressed concern over poor communication from NSFT about the Lark Ward closure.
A statement reads: “Workforce pressures the trust continues to face have been well documented. That said, our experience of the trust’s approach to communicating and engaging with service users and carers, and local agencies that represent them, remains a very real concern for us.
“We understand the reasons for the closure, which relate to safe staffing levels, after all patient safety must be an absolute priority. That said, our focus is on the experience of patients and their families and the implications are that this decision may seriously compromise patient recovery.”
The organisation said NSFT should have informed the groups connected with patients and carers in advance: “They are in a position to offer valuable support and advice to people that have been a patient on the Lark Ward and that may be worried about the consequences of this news.”
“Radical change” must be made for the benefit of service users and staff, Healthwatch Suffolk said.
Parents and carers ‘concerned’
A group that represents Suffolk’s parents and carers said the closure of the Lark Ward was “concerning”.
A statement from the management board of Suffolk Parent Carer Network reads: “Losing the only psychiatric intensive care beds in Suffolk will, inevitably, increase pressure on the remaining beds in Norfolk. This is likely to increase the number of young people who are sent out of area which will mean families having to travel long distances to visit them. This not only places financial pressures on families but the feedback we receive is that the emotional and psychological toll is far greater and the distance they have to travel reduces the frequency they are able to visit. We know that family support is an essential part of the recovery process and this could therefore result in longer inpatient stays.”
The group was “disappointed” not to have been informed of the closure in advance so it could provide reassurance to families.
Trust ‘committed’ to improvement
Mrs Cave said the trust was “totally committed” to making the improvements needed to deliver safe and high quality care.
She added: “We are also working with our partner organisations in the Suffolk and North East Essex Sustainability and Transformation Partnership, including Suffolk County Council, the CCGs and others to review the mental health services we all provide and to review the clinical model for Suffolk. We recognise that there needs to be better working together of all the organisations that provide mental health care.”
NSFT was rated ‘inadequate’ last year and Mrs Cave said the trust was progressing well through its recovery plan.
She said the NSFT management team had “changed significantly” in recent months.
New chief executive Antek Lejk will start in May, and the trust board is recruiting a chief nurse, chief operating officer and director of human resources and organisational development to transform and improve services.