EDP: Letter: Reasons for rise in unexpected deaths need to be established

In an excellent letter to the Eastern Daily Press, Brian Watkins, Liberal Democrat county councillor for the Eaton Division of Norfolk County Council writes:

It is deeply disturbing to learn that there has been a big increase in the number of patients under the care of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust who have died unexpectedly. Despite repeated reassurances that the situation would be brought under control, the latest figures show that deaths during April and May more than doubled compared to the similar period last year. In fact, in the three years since the trust ordered review into unexpected deaths, the figure has quadrupled. This is totally unacceptable, and the reasons need to be established as quickly as possible.

However, there is now a crisis of public confidence that needs to be addressed, not least for the families of those patients who expect to see the very best care provided.

Whilst Michael Scott, the chief executive, has strongly denied any complacency, the trust clearly needs to work more closely with patients and families to establish a consistent level of support and engagement.

However, I fully support the calls being made to adopt a zero-suicide strategy.

One point worth making is that male suicide is not highest in younger men and boys as Brian Watkins states but rather is highest in men aged 45-59. Suicides amongst middle aged men with mental health issues have risen by a shameful 73 per cent since 2006.

Across all age groups and genders, there are now three times as many suicides among those treated under Crisis Resolution or Home Treatment (CR/HT) services, introduced as an alternative to in-patient admission. Suicides among in-patients recently discharged have also risen.

Louis Appleby of the University of Manchester’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness said:

“Our findings follow reports of fewer mental health beds in England and suggest that this has affected the safety of home treatment for patients who might previously have been admitted,” said Appleby. “Commissioners and providers should review the safety of their acute services. In particular, admissions of acutely ill people out of area should cease as they are likely to make care planning more difficult and increase suicide risk on discharge.”

It was exactly the services which middle-aged men with mental health issues would have accessed that have been most savagely cut or closed during the radical redesign cuts at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT): Assertive Outreach and the homeless team were abandoned, beds were cut, CRHT and general adult community teams were slashed. NSFT still doesn’t have enough beds. Redundancies, reorganisations, staff cuts, poor service design and an institutional lack of interest in the wishes of patients and carers destroyed another hugely important preventative factor: continuity of care.

These national increases are nothing like the huge unexplained increases in unexpected deaths at NSFT.

Sadly, the EDP does not make its letter page available online but you can read the letter in full in the image below:

EDP Letters Reasons for rise in unexpected deaths need to be established

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