‘This is a humanitarian disaster’ – Mental health trust closes 36 beds

Julie Cave, outgoing chief executive at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Picture

Julie Cave, outgoing chief executive at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Picture: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

The region’s beleaguered mental health trust has had to shut 36 beds since autumn, it has been revealed.

The Woodlands mental health unit in Ipswich. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The Woodlands mental health unit in Ipswich. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR - Credit: Archant

Staff shortages and unsafe environments were among the reasons for the closures by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

Julie Cave, the trust’s outgoing chief executive, said 28 of the 36 closures were temporary and assured they all had been carried out to protect patients.

The Lark Ward, a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) in Ipswich, had to reduce the number of beds from 10 to seven in October because of staffing problems.

This newspaper revealed yesterday NSFT had taken the decision to completely shut the ward – Suffolk’s only PICU – from April 6 until vacancies were filled.

Peter Devlin, operations director for Suffolk. Picture: NSFT

Peter Devlin, operations director for Suffolk. Picture: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

Pete Devlin, the trust’s operations director for Suffolk, said the beds would be reinstated when safe to do so.

A Stowmarket man who has spoken anonymously said his 20-year-old son is a patient on the unit and had been told he was likely to be moved to another facility outside Suffolk.

“It’s quite worrying really,” he added.

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“My son will find it extremely distressing. He’s got a form of autism, he doesn’t like change in anything.

Jon Neal, the chief executive of Suffolk Mind. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Jon Neal, the chief executive of Suffolk Mind. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“He’s just had his medication changed so he’s starting to settle down on that medication, this could put him back quite a bit really.

“We heard that they were having to use a lot of agency staff, which means they don’t know my son’s background, they don’t know the best way to communicate with him or deal with him, it’s different people in and out all the time so he can’t form a bond with anybody.”

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the closure would increase the burden on other public services.

He added: “This is a humanitarian disaster for local people, as the only option will be transportation away from family, friends, professionals and support networks.”

Jon Neal, chief executive of mental health charity Suffolk Mind, said it was “crucial” the closure was carried out with as little disruption to patients as possible.

Sasha Pearce, head of health at UNISON Eastern Region, blamed recruitment issues on inadequate NHS funding.

She added: “I have spoken to our NSFT UNISON branch members who are very upset about the temporary closure of the ward as they know the devastating effect that withdrawal of this support for people with severe mental health problems will have on patients and their families.

“We hope that temporary really does mean temporary and the trust will keep to its word and reopen as soon as possible.”

Three of the 10 beds at Suffolk Rehabilitation and Recovery Service have also been closed to enable “environmental improvements” to be made and are due to reopen in late May.

Other temporary closures were at St Catherine’s Way Ward in Gorleston and Carlton Court in Carlton Colville due to staffing concerns.

Two beds have been permanently shut at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth to enable a seclusion facility to be built – as well as six on Glaven and Waveney Wards at Hellesdon Hospital, Norwich in order to remove shared bays.

Mrs Cave said: “The safety of our service users and patients is always our principal consideration and we will never in any circumstances allow anything to compromise this.

“These closures are in the best interests of patients.

“We are working with our local clinical commissioning groups about the closures which are part of our quality improvement agenda, and they have all been fully supportive.

“Levels of staffing are continuously monitored and we have taken steps to mitigate the pressures on our beds.”

Mrs Cave said the trust was working hard on recruiting additional employees and looking at different staffing models.

She said NSFT was closely monitoring on a daily basis how the closures were affecting services and so far there had not been any significant impact.

NSFT is rated ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission and is in special measures.

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