Beds Crisis: A Partial Victory? Closure of last mental health beds in West Norfolk halted?

In February of last year, we challenged the Board of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) about rumours that it intended to close the last mental health beds in West Norfolk at the Fermoy Unit in King’s Lynn:

Bosses at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) said they could not rule out closing the Fermoy Unit in King’s Lynn, because of problems with its design and safety.

The unit is the only inpatient facility for mental-health patients in west Norfolk.

Last month research by this newspaper showed some patients from the region have been sent to Altrincham and Bristol for treatment due to a lack of available beds locally.

As we said to the EDP at the time:

A spokesman for campaign group Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, said: “The loss would be disastrous, not just for patients and their families, but also for the finances of the trust given that the average cost of out of area beds is £552 per patient per night.”

On 7th April 2016, the EDP confirmed that we were right to be concerned about the NSFT Board’s intentions:

Mental health patients in West Norfolk who need acute treatment face being sent to Norwich or further for a hospital bed after bosses closed the last remaining unit to new admissions.

But a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk described the situation as a “tragic farce”, and said it was a result of decades of under-investment in mental health.

“The people of Norfolk and Suffolk can’t afford to lose another 20 acute psychiatric inpatient beds,” the spokesman said.

“Talk of staff shortages, building issues and temporary closure are the same excuses used previously to close vital wards.”

The spokesman said the trust was paying the price of making many staff redundant during the organisation’s redesign during 2012-13.

On Saturday 23rd April, we marched through King’s Lynn demonstrating against the closure.

Sophie Biddle of the EDP reported:

More than 100 campaigners pounded the pavements from The Walks and through the town centre before finishing outside the Majestic Cinema to hear speeches.
The protest was triggered by the Fermoy Centre, an in-patient NHS facility for mental health, facing closure.

We halted the closure of the Fermoy Unit but sadly its capacity was reduced from more than twenty patients to fifteen, a cut of at least 25 per cent.

NSFT blamed ‘staff shortages’ despite the fact that during the radical redesign NSFT had made experienced mental health staff in West Norfolk redundant at the cost of millions of pounds.

Last year, NSFT executives told us they intended to move the adult psychiatric beds in West Norfolk to Hellesdon Hospital in Norwich, although they didn’t seem too bothered, in typical NSFT fashion, about whether the new beds should be ready before the old ones closed. NSFT promised that Carlton Court Acute would not be closed until additional beds were available at Northgate but then Carlton Court was closed before the new beds were ready.

Today, Geraldine Scott of the EDP reports:

The region’s mental health trust has drawn up proposals alongside service users and West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) with the aim to more effectively provide in- and out-patient adult services from one, central King’s Lynn site.

It would see the closure of 16 beds currently based at the Fermoy Unit, at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH). But the new unit, also with 16 beds, would open at Chatterton House, in Goodwin’s Road, after a multi-million pound refurbishment which would include building a connecting area between two currently empty wards.

Without pressure from our campaign and the media, this wouldn’t be happening. NSFT executives wanted to write a cheque and dump all new admissions into the private Mundesley Hospital, inadequate or not.

West Norfolk CCG and its antecedents has been the worst commissioner historically, in some years spending less than eighty per cent of the national average (and the rest of Norfolk) on mental health. Perhaps if it had invested properly in mental health services, the current problems at the Fermoy Unit could have been avoided?

The refurbishment of Chatterton House was our recommendation. That said, the beds for older people that were based there should never have been closed.

The proposed 16 adult beds represents a reduction of at least twenty per cent on the capacity of the Fermoy Unit.

Norfolk needs more mental health beds, not fewer.

Why is NSFT cutting bed capacity when it doesn’t have enough beds?

Will the Fermoy Unit remain open until the new beds are built?.

What about the needs of older people in King’s Lynn after the beds for them were closed? They’re being transported all over the country.

We’ve written before about the human cost of closing local mental health beds in West Norfolk. The first redundancies of the ‘radical redesign’ took place in West Norfolk which now has a critical and long-standing recruitment crisis. Service user David Walter has written eloquently about his experience of witnessing staff distress whilst an inpatient in King’s Lynn. Despite the wards being unused for years and the staff having been made redundant, the King’s Lynn beds for older people were not closed: they were ’empty’. Why? To avoid a public consultation, of course.

Perhaps we’ll finally have a proper public consultation?

Not if Patricia Hewitt and the STP Board has anything to do with it.

You can read Geraldine Scott’s article by clicking on the image below:



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