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Suffolk: Bosses claim mental health services are heading towards a “national crisis”

PUBLISHED: 09:45 20 December 2013 | UPDATED: 09:45 20 December 2013

Protestors against changes to mental health services outside the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds

Protestors against changes to mental health services outside the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds

Archant

Mental health services are heading towards a “national crisis” because of funding cuts and increasing demand, bosses in Suffolk have claimed.

Directors from the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) gave frank assessments at a packed public meeting yesterday, where dozens of campaigners staged a protest and handed in an open letter demanding change.

The trust, which looks after mental health services across both counties, has come under fire in recent months, but board members said they are doing the best they can in difficult circumstances.

They warned that there was a growing national crisis in mental health - with governments continuing to restrict funding but increasing numbers of people needing to use services.

Graham Creelman, a non-executive director, said: “Whichever political party is in power, it helps them to continue squeezing funding for the health service, so the pressure would appear to be on the providers to constantly improve.

“We should be constantly improving our quality, but we really need to understand that we’re working in an envelope that is unsustainable for the future without upping pay.

“We must be constantly questioning our efficiency, but this is a developing national crisis in mental health.”

NSFT is in the process of slashing £40 million from its budget by 2016 and cutting bed numbers by 20% as part of a radical redesign of services, which has prompted unions to claim they are in “severe crisis”.

Kathy Chapman, director of operations across Norfolk and Waveney, said: “The proportion of health and social care that can be attributed to mental health is much higher than the proportion of the budget that’s spent on mental health.

“Unlike some of the other main parts of the health service, when we have more people coming through our door, that’s not linked to more funding.

“We know, and we’ve known for many years, about a big increase in demand for services for people with dementia. That demand has not been followed with a proportion of money to go with it.”

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk has been launched by the trust’s front-line staff, and dozens attended yesterday’s meeting at the Athenaeum in Bury St Edmunds armed with protest banners.

Campaigner Terry Skyrme accused bosses of being “complacent” after a presentation revealed NSFT was performing well in a number of key areas compared to other trusts.

He said: “There’s a national crisis of bed shortages, 1,700 beds have gone in two years nationally and there are weeks where there’s been no beds available.

“You say this is a benchmarking exercise, but you’re comparing bad with bad.”

However, the board of directors vehemently opposed the accusation, which John Brierley described as “offensive”.

He added: “We can’t just keep taking away 5% off each service - the quality will go down and the risk will go up.

“What this organisation has done is take a fundamental look at its services, take feedback from its people and say how we can retain our services with the money we have available.”

There were calls for the trust to come out and criticise funding levels, but board chairman Gary Page resisted the clamour.

He said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for an NHS trust to get into a political debate.

“The trust has been quite clear in the fact that the financial situation means we are not going to be able to do all the things in the future that you would want us to do.

“There is an issue around funding in the NHS and this board is doing its best to ensure we get the best deal for Norfolk and Suffolk.”

Healthwatch Suffolk is evaluating service users’ experience in the wake of the trust’s new strategy. These will feed into a review of mental health services by Suffolk County Council’s health scrutiny committee in January.

Healthwatch Suffolk chief executive Annie Topping said: “Our aim is to work together with the trust and service users to make a positive difference to how our mental health services are provided in Suffolk.”

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