Jake Foxford of the East Anglian Daily Times reports:
Hundreds of damning stories from mental health patients in Suffolk will be considered in the next inspection of the region’s struggling NHS trust.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) will soon be inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after being rated inadequate three times before, most recently after its inspection in September 2018.
Now a group of organisations that work with patients have published a report of their feedback, which is full of harrowing stories of the trust failing to support vulnerable people seeking their help.
From their experience of the trust’s services, 74% of comments are negative.
More than five times as many comments are negative as positive.
One person in the report said: “My husband was so ill with depression he had two spells in Woodlands psychiatric hospital in Ipswich.
“He was let out too early after his first stay and six weeks later tried to take his own life.
“The medical and care staff did their best with limited resources but this should never have been allowed to happen.
“The support for me has only been offered after his suicide attempt and the follow up is inadequate.”
One parent, commenting on behalf of her son, said: “It took four years before someone actually worked with my child, during which time he had dropped out of education completely.”
The report also raises serious concerns about patients entering wards voluntarily and not being allowed to leave without an escort.
Almost 400 people have responded to Healthwatch Suffolk’s submissions, compiled with the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, Suffolk User Forum, Suffolk Family Carers and Ace Anglia.
In contrast, Healthwatch Norfolk, which even at the height of the mental health deaths crisis choose to comment on the choice of fonts in the NSFT report rather than increasing numbers of deaths and lack of beds, has failed to publish its submission to Care Quality Commission. It receives £500,000 per year from Norfolk County Council to represent our views but refuses to share with the public what it says on our behalf.
There were regular problems reported with access to services and waiting, with 97% of feedback negative.
Many submissions describe the difficulties people faced when seeking a service, a lack of access altogether or waiting times for support that range from months to years.
Feedback on the length of treatment offered, the support offered to patients in crisis and the cancellation of appointments was 100% negative.
There were mixed impressions of the NSFT’s staff, with many recognising that doctors and nurses were working as well as they could despite high caseloads and workforce pressures.
As we have said many times before, NSFT’s front line staff are lions led by donkeys.
Daryl Chapman, an NSFT executive director, said: “We have been making progress, including the appointments earlier this year of Marie Gabriel as chairwoman and Jonathan Warren as chief executive.
Why is the interim Finance Director, an accountant who isn’t even a permanent member of staff, defending NSFT’s delivery of mental health services?
Is this what a ‘clinically-led’ mental health trust looks like?
Where is the failing Chief Operating Officer or the new disgraceful appointment as deputy Chief Operating Officer? Where is the Chief Nurse? Where is the Medical Director? Where is the Chief Executive? Where is the Chair? Where are their many deputies?
Are they all on their summer holidays in the run up to a CQC inspection? It is hard to tell at Hellesdon Hospital Holiday Camp.
‘Failure continues – This is a scandal’
The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, a pressure group led by the families of failed patients, were appalled by the findings.
A spokesman said: “These dreadful findings from Healthwatch Suffolk confirm our own from across both Suffolk and Norfolk.
“Despite NSFT being told it had only weeks to improve at the beginning of this year by Matt Hancock and local MPs and claims of ‘green shoots of recovery’ from their board, mental health services are worse now than at the time of the last CQC inspection.
“The data also bears this out, with the number of nights spent by NSFT patients in out-of-area beds in the first six months of this year more than twice the number in the six months preceding the last CQC inspection.
“The management culture at the mental health trust is toxic and it has been underfunded for years.
“We were promised change but failure continues. It is a scandal.”
It is hard to adequately express our disappointment with the performance and values of the new NSFT Chair, Marie Gabriel.
‘We have been unable to identify any particular improvement’
Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “It is disappointing that, as a partnership, we have been unable to identify any particular improvement within the sentiment of people’s experiences since the Trust was last inspected.
“That is why we remain committed to the work of the partnership, which helped to shape a new strategy for mental health provision in east and west Suffolk, A Very Different Conversation.
“The ultimate aim is to co-produce a different mental health landscape for Suffolk.
“It is for our local health and care commissioners to now determine what should come next – and they are currently exploring this.
“We will do everything we can to ensure that they are kept well informed about people’s current experiences to help them shape a better offer of support in the future.
“I would encourage anybody using mental health services in Suffolk to visit our website and to feedback about their experiences.
“It is quick and easy, and it means that we can make sure the CQC is fully informed about peoples experiences of the services before, during and after their inspection.”
Imagine if Norfolk had a Healthwatch that genuinely represented the people of Norfolk as Suffolk does?
While hundreds of thousands of pounds were wasted on half-baked plans from management consultants in Norfolk, Suffolk engaged with the public to discover what was needed at a fraction of the cost.
Read the article in full on the EADT website by clicking on the image below: