Hundreds of damning stories from mental health patients in Suffolk will be considered in the next inspection of the regions struggling NHS trust.

East Anglian Daily Times: Healthwatch Suffolk Chief Executive Andy Yacoub Picture: GREGG BROWNHealthwatch Suffolk Chief Executive Andy Yacoub Picture: GREGG BROWN (Image: Archant)

Hundreds of damning stories from mental health patients in Suffolk will be considered in the next inspection of the region's struggling NHS trust.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) will soon be inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after being rated inadequate three times before, most recently after its inspection in September 2018.

Now a group of organisations that work with patients have published a report of their feedback, which is full of harrowing stories of the trust failing to support vulnerable people seeking their help.

From their experience of the trust's services, 74% of comments are negative.

East Anglian Daily Times: Marie Gabriel CBE has been appointed as chair of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) Picture: NSFTMarie Gabriel CBE has been appointed as chair of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) Picture: NSFT (Image: Archant)

The NSFT said in response that "we fully acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do" - but said it is making progress.

One person in the report said: "My husband was so ill with depression he had two spells in Woodlands psychiatric hospital in Ipswich.

"He was let out too early after his first stay and six weeks later tried to take his own life.

"The medical and care staff did their best with limited resources but this should never have been allowed to happen.

"The support for me has only been offered after his suicide attempt and the follow up is inadequate."

One parent, commenting on behalf of her son, said: "It took four years before someone actually worked with my child, during which time he had dropped out of education completely."

The report also raises serious concerns about patients entering wards voluntarily and not being allowed to leave without an escort.

Almost 400 people have responded to Healthwatch Suffolk's submissions, compiled with the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, Suffolk User Forum, Suffolk Family Carers and Ace Anglia.

There were regular problems reported with access to services and waiting, with 97% of feedback negative.

Many submissions describe the difficulties people faced when seeking a service, a lack of access altogether or waiting times for support that range from months to years.

Feedback on the length of treatment offered, the support offered to patients in crisis and the cancellation of appointments was 100% negative.

There were mixed impressions of the NSFT's staff, with many recognising that doctors and nurses were working as well as they could despite high caseloads and workforce pressures.

One comment in the report said of the staff: "NSFT care leads are fantastic. They go above and beyond and we share good working relationships with them."

'We fully acknowledge there is still a lot of work to do'

Daryl Chapman, an NSFT executive director, said: "We have been making progress, including the appointments earlier this year of Marie Gabriel as chairwoman and Jonathan Warren as chief executive.

"Recent CQC inspection reports have found that some progress has been made in many areas, and the Healthwatch Suffolk report includes positive feedback from the Suffolk User Forum, a service user led mental health charity, and Suffolk Family Carers.

"It also acknowledges our commitment to change our culture to be more person-centred and responsive.

"However, we fully acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to do, which is why we are working at pace with our staff, partners, service users and carers to achieve this as soon as possible.

"Next week we are launching a new leadership model across our trust, including the employment of people participation leads in all localities, which will make us more clinically-led and ensure our service users and carers are firmly at the centre of everything we do.

"Other improvements have included the recruitment of additional clinical staff - today, there are 127 more clinical staff in post than there were in October last year - a rise of 4% - and the appointment of a specialist Family Liaison Officer to increase the support provided to people who have been bereaved by suicide."

'Failure continues - This is a scandal'

The Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, a pressure group led by the families of failed patients, were appaled by the findings.

A spokesman said: "These dreadful findings from Healthwatch Suffolk confirm our own from across both Suffolk and Norfolk.

"Despite NSFT being told it had only weeks to improve at the beginning of this year by Matt Hancock and local MPs and claims of 'green shoots of recovery' from their board, mental health services are worse now than at the time of the last CQC inspection.

"The data also bears this out, with the number of nights spent by NSFT patients in out-of-area beds in the first six months of this year more than twice the number in the six months preceding the last CQC inspection.

"The management culture at the mental health trust is toxic and it has been underfunded for years.

"We were promised change but failure continues. It is a scandal."

'We have been unable to identify any particular improvement'

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: "It is disappointing that, as a partnership, we have been unable to identify any particular improvement within the sentiment of people's experiences since the Trust was last inspected.

"That is why we remain committed to the work of the partnership, which helped to shape a new strategy for mental health provision in east and west Suffolk, A Very Different Conversation.

"The ultimate aim is to co-produce a different mental health landscape for Suffolk.

"It is for our local health and care commissioners to now determine what should come next - and they are currently exploring this.

"We will do everything we can to ensure that they are kept well informed about people's current experiences to help them shape a better offer of support in the future.

"I would encourage anybody using mental health services in Suffolk to visit our website and to feedback about their experiences.

"It is quick and easy, and it means that we can make sure the CQC is fully informed about peoples experiences of the services before, during and after their inspection."