MPs and health chiefs back our new Mental Health Watch campaign

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge has backed our Mental Health Watch campaign

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge has backed our Mental Health Watch campaign - Credit: Gregg Brown

Our new campaign to fight for those who suffer mental health problems has received the backing of charities, MPs and the boss of the NHS trust tasked with tackling the issue.

Mental Health Watch, launched yesterday, aims to increase awareness, reduce stigma and fight for vital improvements to services in the region.

Today, Michael Scott, chief executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said he backed the campaign “100 per cent”. He added: “Our frontline staff know better than most just what a huge difference having good access to the right care makes to the thousands of people they see within our communities every day, especially when those people are at their most vulnerable.

“And that’s why our trust has made its own clear commitment to continue to fight for increased and fair funding for mental health services; to do all we can to remove the stigma surrounding mental health; and to continually improve and develop our own services.”

He said the trust recognised it had more improvements to make within its own services, that improving quality was not all about money or increasing bed numbers and that all of their partners, particularly GPs, social care and education services, had to help fight stigma and improve services.

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Over the next few weeks and months we will focus on key areas of mental health and outline the improvements that are needed, as well as encourage those who suffer to speak out and those who know someone who suffers to educate themselves on the issues.

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge has joined the all-party group on mental health after finding it was one of the most important issues that came up in his constituency during the general election.

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He said: “It is clearly a very important issue and one that deserves attention.”

He knew well someone who had experience of the mental health system – and that friend’s experiences had convinced him of the need for reform.

“Mental health as a subject deserves more attention than it has had at some times in the past, and for that reason I welcome your newspapers focussing a campaign on the issue.”

This is our manifesto for mental health, which outlines 10 of the key areas where action is needed. They are by no means all of them, but would represent a start.

Fairer funding

Mental health has been described as “a Cinderella service of a Cinderella service”. Nationally, a recent survey found that NHS trusts’ income for mental health services has dropped by 8.25% over the past five years, despite rising demand.

Trust chief Michael Scott has himself previously highlighted the unfairness of a situation where hospitals are paid depending on demand, while mental health services are not.

Locally, much of the funding is provided by the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) but there are wide discrepancies in Norfolk and Suffolk in what percentage of their budgets is given over to the sector.

The pre-election coalition government pledged an extra £1.25bn for children’s mental health services over five years, but already there are fears this is being reneged on by the current government.

End the stigma

A recent study by the Young Minds charity found a stigma is still attached to mental health and said mental health is associated with negative connotations, so people do not want to admit to having problems. People of all ages need to be encouraged to speak up so the issue can be properly tackled.

No more out of area placements

When someone is at their lowest ebb, they might need to be provided a bed by the mental health trust so they can be monitored and nursed back to health. A lack of beds in the region means often people have to be sent out of the area, alone, scared and away from their loved ones.

Recent figures show £3.3m was spent on placements outside the area in 2014-15 compared with £800,000 in 2013-14. Even the trust knows this is unacceptable and has pledged to do all they can to stop it from happening.

Recent figures show at times there have been zero out-of-area placements of Norfolk and Suffolk patients. That needs to be maintained.

Encourage schools to play their part

Recent figures highlighted an 84pc increase in the numbers of children being referred to the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).

There is a growing belief that earlier intervention is key not only to helping youngsters, but also to try to eradicate problems that can be experienced later in life.

Schools can and should play a part in this, whether it be through having a dedicated mental heath nurse on the premises, giving training to staff or simply encouraging pupils to speak out.

We’d like to hear from those schools who are doing their bit and which measures are working.

For its part, the government this week launched a new anti-stigma campaign which will see more support, advice and guidance provided in schools.

Reduce waiting times

Imagine feeling desperate for help, seeking it and then having to wait up to two months for something to happen.

That’s the situation regularly being faced in Norfolk and Suffolk due to the number of unallocated cases. Earlier this year the trust had 839 unallocated cases in Norfolk and Suffolk, including 139 children or young people.

That figure has been reduced significantly, but a recent board report showed in the Norwich area alone 370 cases were unallocated, with 70pc of service users having to wait 56 days or more to be seen.

The trust is keen to point out that such cases describe those who have been initially assessed and are waiting to be allocated a care co-ordinator or a lead care professional, but they can receive some treatment.

Out of special measures

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust was placed in special measures in February this year after receiving an overall rating of inadequate.

Some of the key areas of concern included low staff morale, poor leadership, insufficient and unsafe staffing levels and lack of availability of beds. The trust’s recent financial overspend has also added to the problems.

If it can pull itself free from special measures, it will be a concrete sign the trust is on the right track again.

No more postcode lottery

Problems affecting children can be very different to those affecting adults – but in some areas a one-size- fits-all approach appears to exist.

Campaigners in Suffolk have called for round-the-clock expert care to be available for children in the region, fearing that too often a child with complex problems is simply diverted to A&E.

Anne Humphrys, of Debenham, who jointly set up the Suffolk support group Parents and Carers Together, after enduring problems accessing suitable treatment for her 17-year-old daughter, said: “There is an out-of-hours service, but it’s a team of one or two trying to deal with everyone – they can’t cope.”

Meanwhile, between January 2014 and June 2015 there were 13 instances in Suffolk alone when those classed as ‘young people’, but aged over 16 years old, needed an admission on to adult wards. That is 13 too many. The trust says that when that happens it always launches an investigation – and that it is putting forward a business case to the CCGs to invest in an intensive treatment-at-home service for 14- to 17-year-olds.

Work as one trust

If Norfolk and Suffolk’s mental health services are to come under one trust, it needs to work as one trust. It can prove it is doing so by making sure those services and schemes that work well are rolled out everywhere.

The trust has won praise for the ways it tackles the problem of children’s mental health services, yet a new-look wellbeing service launched in Norfolk and Waveney last month, has yet to reach the rest of Suffolk.

Similarly, in Suffolk, parents have spoken of the frustrations of being told their children could not receive certain specialist treatment because that specialist was based in a different part of the county.

The trust says that in certain cases its hands are tied as it simply provides the services commissioned by each local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Reduce Agency staff spend

Such are the problems with staff recruitment in Norfolk and Suffolk, it spent £24.8m on agency staff last year alone. Paying for these staff will be more expensive than having the trust’s own employees in the positions because they come with a premium. Therefore, this is a problem that is diverting much-needed cash from other vitally important areas.

Raise awareness

The more that society can learn and understand about mental health problems, the more it can help take away the pressures on state-funded services.

Our campaign promises to do its bit to make people aware of the warning signs, how to react around people who are suffering and what not to do.

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