Antek Lejk vows to make mental health trust less ‘Norfolk-centric’ as new boss
- Credit: NSFT
The new boss of the region’s troubled mental health trust has pledged to reopen vital intensive care beds in Suffolk.
Antek Lejk said he hoped to get Lark Ward, based at the Woodlands centre in Ipswich, back up and running within the next three to six months.
The psychiatric intensive care unit was shut by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) in April because there were not enough staff to keep patients safe.
The number of beds on the ward had already been reduced from 10 to seven in October due to gaps in the rota.
Speaking to this newspaper during his first week in the role of NSFT chief executive, Mr Lejk said resolving the situation was a “big priority”.
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“It was closed because of safety and we need to make sure it is going to be safe before we reopen it but absolutely it’s at the core of what we do and we need to have it back in place,” he said.
“I wish we hadn’t had to do it, but we need to make sure that we’ve got the right kind of workforce in place and then we will reopen it – it’s a big priority.”
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NSFT received flak over poor communication about the Lark Ward closure with patients, carers and families, and the organisations that represent them.
Mr Lejk accepted the trust should have done better, adding: “We won’t do that again.”
Questioned over suggestions NSFT could split back into two organisations for Norfolk and Suffolk, Mr Lejk said this was not something the trust “was pushing for or wanted to happen”.
However, he added there was soon to be a major review of mental health services, so changes could be in the pipeline.
Since mental health trusts in the two counties merged in 2012, some critics claim Suffolk has been treated as a poor relation of Norfolk.
Mr Lejk, who lives in Suffolk, said he understood why, and he vowed to redress the balance.
“I think the way it is set up makes everything look a bit Norfolk-centric and I’m keen to break that because I think that’s wrong,” he added.
“There’s a lot to it, but even little things like our exec teams going and having meetings out there and spending time with the staff and also dedicated execs attached to different localities so there’s a sense of presence, so in that sense I think we do have to recover from that perception because there is some sort of reality to it and I think knowing about it helps.”
Mr Lejk said a major issue facing NSFT – as with NHS trusts across the country – was around recruitment and retention.
Along with those on Lark Ward, the trust has had to temporarily close other beds within the region in recent months due to lack of workers.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter told the House of Commons this week staffing shortages at NSFT were a “scandal”.
Mr Lejk – who was previously the boss of Norfolk’s clinical commissioning groups – said work was underway to try and turn the tide, including offering golden hellos for certain posts.
He added: “We can’t press a button and just say here is the solution. We do need to change the attractiveness of the organisation and make it somewhere people want to come. We are fishing in a pool that is struggling and nationally there are shortages in many areas so we have to make ourselves more attractive.”
NSFT has long been criticised for sending patients out of area for care because it lacked capacity to treat them locally.
When the Care Quality Commission rated the trust ‘inadequate’ in October, it determined that it did not have enough inpatient beds.
NSFT was subsequently placed into special measures for the second time.
Asked if the trust was going to open more beds, Mr Lejk said leaders were “talking with commissioners about the options”, but added they were focusing on investing in initiatives to help people stay well at home and prevent them from needing crisis care in the first place.
He added: “This is a multifaceted issue so there are times, and I used to see this when I was a commissioner, when you look at the number of out of area placements and you look at the number of people who are delayed in hospital who don’t need to be in the beds and they are the same number, so if everyone was in the right place you might just about have the right number of beds.”
Mr Lejk said the “system needs to change” to ensure mental health services receive fair funding.