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EADT: Mental health trust ‘sorry’ after Ipswich unit was forced to close beds

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Emily Townsend of the East Anglian Daily Times reports:

Campaigners are warning that mental health services in Suffolk and Norfolk are in “meltdown” after a unit caring for people with learning disabilities was temporarily unable to admit new patients.

Six inpatient beds at Walker Close, Ipswich’s Adult Learning Disability Service, had to close to new admissions from the end of March until the beginning of June – because a consultant psychiatrist was not in post. That meant one patient was sent out of the trust area for treatment – and bosses at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), which runs the service, has apologised for this.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) closed the service to new admissions and hoped nobody would notice with the intention of closing the unit. The statement was only provided following questions from parents and carers who demanded answers from the mental health trust.

Patients will have been not only sent out of area but also refused admission or placed in inappropriate settings.

However, parents are worried about the future of the service, which supports people who have a learning disability and mental health needs.

With good reason.

The modus operandi of NSFT and commissioners when surruptiously closing beds has been to close the ward secretly to new admissions, place people who would have been looked after in inappropriate NHS provision or more often to transport them to private hospitals elsewhere, claim the beds are unnecessary and only then begin the statutory public consultation as a fait accompli after the wards are mothballed and staff are gone. When staff find out the plans, they will have left before the consultation as they will rightly see no future in a unit that they know is closing, allowing NSFT to claim the beds cannot be staffed safely. This is what happened at Carlton Court Acute near Lowestoft, at the now closed wards in King’s Lynn and it is exactly what is happening now at Walker Close. NSFT will inappropriately use the language of equality and human rights to justify its financial cuts and a poorer service, just as happened to the elderly who now have to wait two weeks for an urgent hospital admission that previously would have been far quicker.

Healthwatch Suffolk’s chief executive Andy Yacoub said his organisation also has concerns for the service’s long-term plans, adding: “Up until now, the trust has not spoken with us about its proposals.”

Again, absolutely typical.

Watch them permanently close Walker Close. It is doomed.

News of the temporary closure comes as trust documents, seen by this newspaper, reveal patients in crisis are still being sent up to 250 miles away for care.

In February, we exposed what campaigners dubbed a “scandal” of people being routinely sent out of area for treatment.

Four months on, and a new list of placements in March and April 2019 reveals NSFT patients were being sent to places like The Priory Hospital Middleton St George in Darlington (250 miles away), The Cygnet Hospital Kewstoke in Weston-Super-Mare (230 miles away) and The Priory Hospital in Altrincham, near Manchester (225 miles away).

Seven people were sent away in a single day on March 15, and NSFT patients spent more than 4,200 days outside the trust from January 1 to March 31, according to official NHS data, at a cost of £2million.

What’s the situation at Walker Close now?

Trust bosses have since been able to recruit a consultant psychiatrist at Walker Close, which means the unit is now open to new admissions.

Only after they were caught out.

‘Scandal getting worse’, campaigners claim

Campaigners have warned our mental health service is in “meltdown”.

They say they are “more likely to believe in Narnia” than NSFT’s promises to end out of area placements by 2021, a pledge they have failed to deliver in recent years.

“CQC inspectors have repeatedly found that NSFT does not have enough beds,” said a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk.

“Since the failed CQC inspection of NSFT in September 2018, the number of nights spent out of area by patients from Norfolk and Suffolk has nearly tripled.

“How is this the improvement in weeks that our local MPs demanded in January 2019? It is the opposite.

“Quite frankly, mental health services in Suffolk and Norfolk are in meltdown and the number of patients in crisis being transported, sometimes hundreds of miles away, is a reflection of this collapse in community, crisis and inpatient provision.

The spokesman added: “Why should we have any faith in these ‘ambitions’ when in January 2014, commissioners promised that there would be no out of area placements after April 2014?

“The date for ending out of area placements has been continually revised yet transportation of people in crisis has rocketed to record levels.”

Click on the image below to read the article in full, with Stuart Richardson’s excuses and mealy-mouthed justifications, on the EADT website:

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