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MPs warn against government stepping in over mental health services

PUBLISHED: 11:40 11 December 2018

Health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has promised action over the failing NSFT
Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has promised action over the failing NSFT Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Archive/PA Images

MPs have urged caution amid calls for the government to seize control of the region's failing mental health trust.

Former health minister Dr Dan Poulter has warned against putting NSFT in special administration
Picture: DENISE BRADLEYFormer health minister Dr Dan Poulter has warned against putting NSFT in special administration Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Last month Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) was placed into special measures for the third time by the Care Quality Commission.

Investigations into services in Suffolk found a litany of failings including some patients being forced to wait years for appointments.

Some people were waiting so long it was discovered they were harming themselves and even attempting suicide.

England’s chief inspector of hospitals, Dr Paul Lelliott, said patients “deserve better”.

The failings raised the possibility of the trust being placed in a special administration, effectively meaning the government would step in to improve services.

But our MPs have advised against rushing into special administration although they all agree immediate action is vital to improve services.

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter is a doctor who still works in the NHS. He was a health minister when the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust was placed in special administration.

“I can say from experience that doing that is a very extreme measure,” he said. “It is a not quick fix and can take as long as two years to work up a full report.

“A major worry I would have is that process would take staff time up. With Mid Staffs operations, for example, could be done at neighbouring hospitals. But with mental health issues it is often community-led care. It is not feasible.

“Politicians often want to push the nuclear button but I don’t believe that is the best option. Other trusts have turned around with the right leadership and by sharing best practice with other high-performing trusts.”

And Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill also advised against a “knee-jerk” reaction: “In my view the maintaining the status quo won’t improve outcomes for the local population, attempts over five years have been made to try and improve the situation and failed. The report was damning on the treatment of staff and it is vital we support our caring and hardworking staff.

“I support fully, the vision to develop place-based services but would like to see a more broad reaching model that includes schools, the police and other partners. This needs to be a planned and managed transition avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to finally deliver sustainable results. We need to work in partnership with Norfolk and with assurance from local NHS leaders to ensure that increased investment in Suffolk, particularly West Suffolk.”

Waveney MP Peter Aldous added: “There is understandable upset and worry that NSFT remain in special measures and have received another disappointing CQC report. I am advised that the safety issues that the report identified are being addressed.

“There is a need for a more local service, for much earlier intervention and for NSFT to work closely with local surgeries, as well as reviewing the structure of the organisation. I’m assured that this work is now in hand and so at this stage there is not a need to place NSFT in special administration.”

And Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey also urged against major reorganisation instead hoping the focus would now be on improvements.

“I would expect people experienced in running this sort of operation to make a judgement on this,” she said. “NHS Improvement specifically said to us that this special administration process is not particularly effective. I would rather they focus on the rapid improvement plan for vulnerable patients than get into reorganisation at the moment.”

And South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge added: “I think it’s important that NHS Improvement take every possible step to ensure we have a sustainable solution for this vital but troubled trust. We have to be careful not to be predetermined on any particular course of action but what we cannot have is more years of poor standards.”

Health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock has promised action and speaking to this newspaper he said: “It’s clear that significant action is needed as services need significant improvement.”

Previously he said: “The first priority must always be the welfare and safety of patients. This situation cannot continue and I am determined to sort it out.”

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