EADT: ‘This is a humanitarian disaster’ – Mental health trust closes 36 beds

Gemma Mitchell of the East Anglian Daily Times reports:

The region’s beleaguered mental health trust has had to shut 36 beds since autumn, it has been revealed.

Beds have closed in Ipswich, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

At least eight of the bed closures are permanent.

Service users and carers and their organisations received little to no warning of these closures, never mind consultation.

The Lark Ward, a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) in Ipswich, had to reduce the number of beds from 10 to seven in October because of staffing problems.

This newspaper revealed yesterday NSFT had taken the decision to completely shut the ward – Suffolk’s only PICU – from April 6 until vacancies were filled.

Shameful. An entire English county without psychiatric intensive care beds. Would that be acceptable in physical health?

Internal NSFT emails say these bed closures are indefinite and will last for months, not weeks.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has been rated Inadequate and told by the health regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), that it does not have enough beds to deliver safe mental health services twice.

NSFT’s solution? To close more beds.

We have been raising the beds crisis with the Chair of NSFT, Gary Page, for more than four years.

When we first highlighted the problems at NSFT, Gary Page called our claims a ‘so-called crisis’.

We warned Gary Page and the NSFT Board against spending millions of pounds making some of its most experienced and highly-qualified staff redundant or forcing them to take early retirement – while NSFT had hundreds of vacancies. Gary Page went ahead and burnt millions of pounds of taxpayers money and destroyed mental health services.

How can Gary Page remain in his job?

How can the public have any confidence whatsoever?

What is NHS Improvement (NHSI) doing? Its Chief Executive, Ian Dalton, should be ashamed.

It is nearly six months since NSFT was put into Special Measures for the second time and matters are getting worse not better. What is the current Improvement Director, Philippa Slinger, doing? The contrast with the previous Improvement Director is stark.

This isn’t the NSFT Finance Director and interim Chief Executive’s mess. Julie Cave’s attempts to engage with service users and carers, to secure more funding and improve NSFT’s performance have been undermined by NHS Improvement and commissioners, who want to hide the role in the underfunding of mental health services.

This month, a new CEO, Antek Lejk, who service users and carers found unappointable, has been imposed at NSFT.

Antek Lejk, as Lead Executive of the Norfolk STP and Chief Officer of both South Norfolk and North Norfolk CCGs, dissed the CQC’s findings and refused to open his chequebook to finance decent mental health services with enough staff and beds.

Antek Lejk and his commissioners were content to spend millions and transport people to a private hospital they knew to be inadequate rather than reopen beds. 

But NHS Improvement and the CCGs like him because he is their man.

Now, NSFT is closing desperately-needed beds.

A Stowmarket man who has spoken anonymously said his 20-year-old son is a patient on the unit and had been told he was likely to be moved to another facility outside Suffolk.

“It’s quite worrying really,” he added.

“My son will find it extremely distressing. He’s got a form of autism, he doesn’t like change in anything.

“He’s just had his medication changed so he’s starting to settle down on that medication, this could put him back quite a bit really.

“We heard that they were having to use a lot of agency staff, which means they don’t know my son’s background, they don’t know the best way to communicate with him or deal with him, it’s different people in and out all the time so he can’t form a bond with anybody.”

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the closure would increase the burden on other public services.

He added: “This is a humanitarian disaster for local people, as the only option will be transportation away from family, friends, professionals and support networks.”

Jon Neal, chief executive of mental health charity Suffolk Mind, said it was “crucial” the closure was carried out with as little disruption to patients as possible.

There will be huge disruption.

Sasha Pearce, head of health at UNISON Eastern Region, blamed recruitment issues on inadequate NHS funding.

Absolutely. NSFT has experienced years of funding cuts. In Norfolk, NSFT’s share of the NHS budget has fallen by 8.3 per cent as referrals have risen 48 per cent.

She added: “I have spoken to our NSFT UNISON branch members who are very upset about the temporary closure of the ward as they know the devastating effect that withdrawal of this support for people with severe mental health problems will have on patients and their families.

“We hope that temporary really does mean temporary and the trust will keep to its word and reopen as soon as possible.”

After the ‘mothballing’ of beds in King’s Lynn to avoid a public consultation and their subsequent closure, why should we have any faith in NSFT’s good faith?

Three of the 10 beds at Suffolk Rehabilitation and Recovery Service have also been closed to enable “environmental improvements” to be made and are due to reopen in late May.

Other temporary closures were at St Catherine’s Way Ward in Gorleston and Carlton Court in Carlton Colville due to staffing concerns.

Two beds have been permanently shut at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth to enable a seclusion facility to be built – as well as six on Glaven and Waveney Wards at Hellesdon Hospital, Norwich in order to remove shared bays.

Absolutely shameful.

NSFT is rated ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission and is in special measures.

NSFT’s failure is a failure of supervision and commissioning as well as management. NHS Improvement, NHS England and the CCGs should be rated Inadequate too.

Click on the image below to read the full story on the EADT website:


197 thoughts on “EADT: ‘This is a humanitarian disaster’ – Mental health trust closes 36 beds”

  1. What about the people who should be in the beds that have been closed? People who are in crisis and need a place of safety are going to be left to fend for themselves or in the care of community nurses who already are overburdened. Patients might be unsafe in inadequately staffed inpatient beds, but they might also be even less safe struggling with crises in the community. The vast majority of deaths of patients of NSFT happen in the community. Closing beds is a disaster.
    The majority of unexpected deaths of service users of NSFT take place in the community. There were 146 unexpected deaths from April 2017 – March 2018 – 36 less deaths than last year. 
    NSFT are closing 36 beds temporarily due to safety issues. Whilst this might appear reasonable, this equates to 36  more people who need a bed left without inpatient care to survive crises living in the community. The proposed Crisis Cafe is not yet operational. 
    What steps are being taken by NSFT to keep people safe and boost care for those who are unable to access inpatient care whilst these 36 beds are temporarily closed?’

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