Lack of support for mental health patients

A LACK of support for mental health patients in Suffolk once they have been discharged from hospital is causing concern for health bosses, it has emerged.

The issue has come to light after a dramatic rise in the number of patients staying more than three months in acute units.

NHS bosses are enforcing a raft of measures to combat the problem, but claim the delays in discharging patients are largely due to a lack of suitable accommodation in the community.

Health campaigners are demanding further investigations to get to the root of the problem, although they admit a solution will be complex.

Board members of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust yesterday discussed the findings of a report which revealed the number of sufferers staying at inpatient units for more than 90 days had soared from 8.97% to 28.4% in May alone.

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The report’s author, Sandra Cowie, director of Mental Health and Social Care, said: “There are a number of things in place to address this, but it is not straightforward.

“Cases are a lot more complex now. People have more than one diagnosis – for example, mental health problems and substance misuse.

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“It may also be due to changes in society, drugs, alcohol or unemployment. There are now also more people who are ineligible for housing because of their status in this country.

“We use a range of supported housing accommodation, but the bulk of provision in Suffolk is full at the moment.

“It is a complicated set of contributing factors and we are working to do whatever we can to resolve this.”

Among the steps being taken include weekly meetings to review every person coming up for discharge and working closely with housing organisations.

But Mrs Cowie hinted that these issues had not improved for quite some time.

She told the meeting: “There are significant issues. It feels to me that I’m repeating much of what I said about this two years ago.”

Chairman Lord Newton said: “We need to make sure we get our eyes firmly on this ball.”

Jeff Stern, who attended the meeting as a member of health scrutiny group Suffolk LINk, said: “The fact the trust produced a special paper shows they are concerned and want to get to the bottom of it.

“It is of concern to us and we would like to know in more detail why it is happening. We want to be kept in the loop.

“It doesn’t mean that one reason will emerge quickly – it is a very complex situation. The biggest problem in many ways is outside organisations.”

The report also showed that the number of patients re-admitted within 28 days of being discharged had jumped eight-fold from 2.3% to 16.9% in the last six months.

Bosses admit they do not know precisely why, but believe it may be down to an increasing number of people subsequently being diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder which may not have presented itself initially.

An “increasingly risk-averse” culture across all organisations may also be a factor, the report said.

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