Geraldine Scott of the Eastern Daily Press reports:
More than £500,000 was spent on sending patients under the care of the region’s mental health trust to other facilities in the last month as bosses admit “still too many” patients were being sent out of the area for treatment.
Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has seen a large rise in the number of ‘bed days’ spent by patients either outside the two counties, or at private providers, since April 2016.
And £571,000 was spent on sending patients out of area or to other facilities last month, £480,000 more than budgeted.
NSFT spent more than six times its completely unrealistic budget.
In April 2016, 26 days were spent by NSFT patients at hospitals outside Norfolk and Suffolk, but in February this year the number rose to 470. This was in addition to 302 days spent at the private Mundesley Hospital in April 2016, compared to 514 in February 2017.
The figures come as the trust remains under pressure to stop sending mental health patients out of the area for treatment, sometimes hundreds of miles from their families.
In 2014 the NSFT and health commissioners set themselves a four month deadline to ensure they had enough beds in the region.
But three years later the problem remains, while a review into the number of beds available at the trust is due to be released in April or May.
So far since April 2016, £3.8m has been spent by the trust on the out of trust bed days – more than £2.9m more than budgeted.
Kathy Chapman and the Board of Shame promised that beds would not be closed until it was shown that they were no longer needed. They carried on closing beds.
As of yesterday, there were 15 NSFT patients receiving medical care outside Norfolk, while nine were being treated at the Mundesley Hospital – despite the hospital remaining in special measures and being rated ‘inadequate’ for safety just this month.
IT and phone failure
A meeting of the NSFT Board of Directors this afternoon heard how IT and phone systems across the trust’s Norfolk locations were out of action for a number of hours on Friday.
Director of Strategy and Resources Leigh Howlett told the board scheduled maintenance had taken place before the fault. She said engineers had tried to bring the system back online, but were not able to for some time. She added Suffolk had not been affected.
A spokesman from Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said GPs had not been able to make referrals and staff could not look up notes.
But Ms Howlett said lessons had been learned, and calls had been diverted to mobile phones.
“They instigated business continuity plans, and although this was not something we wanted there were no clinical incidents or patient safety issues reported,” she said.
That’s not what we heard from staff members of our campaign.
How were patients, NSFT staff or GPs supposed to report incidents or patient safety issues without working phones, faxes, email or medical records at NSFT?
Until we heckled, to which we are now reduced since we were forbidden from asking questions until the end of the meeting, Leigh Howlett was claiming that only Lorenzo and email failed, rather than phones and faxes too. Hundreds of front line health care staff were unable to do their jobs properly between 11 a.m. and just before 5 p.m.
No competent IT manager would allow the testing of notoriously unpredictable Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs) on business critical servers during working hours, particularly when two key IT staff were on leave and in the absence of functional back-up systems. But that is exactly what happened. In the private sector, £100,000 per annum Leigh Howlett would be sacked for this. In healthcare, the stakes are higher still. Except for shameless NHS executives.
Nobody on the Board thought it appropriate, or had enough knowledge of technology and what had happened, to question Leigh Howlett properly about these foolish and dangerous decisions.
Of course, Leigh Howlett and the Board of Shame claimed that Lorenzo was a panacea. What competent Board would move to electronic medical records or a single point of access without proper back-up systems?
The catastrophic failure of the IT and telecoms wasn’t even on the agenda. Its late addition couldn’t have been related to the fact that we tweeted that we were going to ask about it, could it?
New auditors brought in
At the board meeting it was also revealed auditors Mazars were helping NSFT collate mortality data.
Medical director Bohdan Solomka said the auditors – who examined unexpected deaths at Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust in 2015 – were looking at why deaths occur in certain areas.
How much is this accountancy firm costing the NHS?
The data presented by NSFT are still misleading, partial, defensive and incomplete.
Director of Nursing, Jane Sayer, said that NSFT would be ‘forced’ to do more about unexpected deaths because of national guidelines. Isn’t it shameful that the Director of Nursing has to be ‘forced’ to do more to reverse the disgraceful doubling of unexpected deaths?
The Chief Executive, Michael Scott, made some of his usual lame excuses. Scott appeared to say that the only deaths that NSFT can do much about are suicides, which shows how little he understands mental health. The ideas in people’s heads are hard to understand and change: it is much easier to stop people drowning in the bath, choking on their own food whilst inpatients, dying in squalor from neglect or from lack of assessment, therapy, medication, community support, specialist teams or beds.
NSFT has set itself a target to reduce ‘preventable deaths’ by twenty per cent.
A bereaved mother, forced to wait until the end of the meeting to put her question, asked why NSFT didn’t want to reduce ‘preventable deaths’ by one hundred per cent.
That’s a bloody good question, isn’t it?
Depressing that it has to be asked by a grieving mother rather than by one of the expensive directors sitting around the Board of Shame table though, isn’t it?
Waiting times increase for young patients
Waiting times for children and young people seen by the trust increased by 3.2pc in January, but NSFT still hit the target of seeing 80pc of CAMHS patients within the standard times set.
In Norfolk, service users under 18 should be seen within eight weeks, in Suffolk it is 15 weeks.
Some 94.3pc service users were seen in the standard time, but some young people were assessed by the YMCA, rather than NSFT, or private providers.
We have profound concerns about governance arrangements and the qualifications of some of those doing Tier Three work with young people.
Some of the subcontractors are also permanent NSFT employees. Are commissioners aware? How are conflicts of interest managed?
The NSFT Chair, Gary Page, disgracefully prevented us asking about these important matters by ending the Board meeting thirty minutes early, even as we protested that we had questions from staff, carers and service users that had not been asked. Some people who had travelled long distances arrived before the scheduled time for questions from the public to discover that the meeting had been ended by Gary Page.
We will be raising this issue and other concerns about the conduct of directors during this public Board meeting with NHS Improvement. None of the members of the Board of Shame objected to the Chair’s decision to end the meeting prematurely.
The new Lead Governor demonstrated her independence by asking a question about appraisals which appeared to blame staff for not thinking them important. Another governor asked about dental hygiene. We’re fortunate to have their incisive questioning holding the Board of Shame to account.
Don’t forget to join us on the March for Mental Health on Sunday 30th April at 11 a.m. on Norwich City Hall steps. We will remember them.
Click on the image below to read the article in full on the EDP website: