Governors demand transparency over mental health staffing crisis across Suffolk and Norfolk

NSFT chairman Gary Page. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

NSFT chairman Gary Page. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Lucy Taylor

The true depth of the frontline staffing crisis facing the region’s mental health trust has been revealed.

The Woodlands unit in Ipswich, where the Lark Ward is based. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The Woodlands unit in Ipswich, where the Lark Ward is based. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Archant

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has resorted to offering golden hellos of £10,000 for senior doctors and £3,000 for Band 5 nurses to fill hard-to-recruit posts.

This newspaper reported this morning the welcome packages are available for eight doctors and 41 nurses in Suffolk.

We can now reveal the trust has also put forward premiums for 14 doctors and 15 nurses in Norfolk.

The shortages have resulted in bed closures across the region, including seven at the Lark Ward in Ipswich.

Carer governor Anne Humphrys. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Carer governor Anne Humphrys. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Lucy Taylor

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Governors of the trust have accused bosses of trying to hide the problem.

At a meeting in Ipswich today the governors were presented with a report about recruitment, which is also put out to the public.

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The document quotes the trust’s overall vacancy rate of 9.2% and says this is “well below the average for mental health trusts”.

While the report admits there are “significant variations by locality, service lines and by professional group”, governors questioned why further in-depth figures were not released.

Marcus Hayward, staff governor, said: “These are going into the public domain and the perception is we are trying to hide the real problem.”

Staff governor Clare Smith added: “Would it not be more helpful to provide us with the slightly more detailed and less misleading figures?”

Anne Humphrys​, Suffolk carer governor, said: “To give an example would be that the Suffolk Access and Assessment team for children and young people have all left and that resulted in a significant backlog of cases, so it’s really important for us to understand that next layer.”

Ian Hartley, public governor for Suffolk, added: “I did think it was particularly misleading to make comparisons with others trusts to say we are doing well.”

Governors were told NSFT’s registered nursing vacancy rate is currently at 16%, and its medical staff vacancy rate is 17%.

Chairman Gary Page said board members were aware the vacancy figures needed to be made clearer in documents.

He said: “As a board we have discussed this – that we need to look at that next level down because if we look at that headline number you get a green but that is false assurance.”

Cash rejection ‘utterly indefensible’

Mr Page spoke out in the meeting about the Department for Health’s decision to turn down the trust’s application for emergency capital of £5.2 million.

The cash would have gone towards fixing issues highlighted by inspectors when NSFT was placed into special measures in October last year.

Mr Page said he had made his views known during a meeting with NHS Improvement this week.

“It was utterly indefensible that a trust in special measures is being told by the CQC it has to fix things and NHSI encouraged us to apply for the money and it then gets deferred,” he said. “It’s not acceptable and we have made that very clear to them.”

The trust will be reapplying for the funding in 2018/19.

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