Protest at Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trust AGM over unexpected patient deaths data

Campaigners protest outside the NSFT AGM at IP-City Centre in Ipswich.

Campaigners protest outside the NSFT AGM at IP-City Centre in Ipswich. - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

Campaigners have demanded answers and greater transparency from mental health bosses over a “shocking” rise in unexpected patient deaths in Suffolk and Norfolk.

Bereaved families, carers, patients and NHS staff were among the protesters who yesterday attended the annual general meeting (AGM) of the trust that runs mental health services in the two counties.

It was staged because the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) did not include details of the number of unexpected deaths in its 2015/2016 report, which was being discussed at the AGM.

Terry Skyrme, founder of Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, said ahead of the meeting: “We are here because the trust is holding its AGM but is not discussing the fact that 300 people have died under their care in the last three years. They have removed it [the figure] because I think they are ashamed of it. They are not helping people who are at risk of suicide. They haven’t got the staff, the wards or the hostels.”

Suffolk campaigner Jane Basham added: “In order to be accountable the public needs to understand what’s happening in public services and the removal of crucial data is shocking.”

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An unexpected death is classed as one where the cause could not be anticipated. It can be suicide, natural causes, a physical illness or an accident and includes anyone who has been treated by the trust in the six months before their death.

In 2012/13 the trust reported 53 such deaths, but this figure rose to 105 in 2013/14. There were 139 unexpected deaths in 2014/2015 and 157 last year. In the first five months of 2016/2017 there were 86 of these deaths, and if it continues at this rate there will be more than 200 unexpected deaths this year.

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During the meeting, which was held at the IP-City Centre in Ipswich, Gary Page, chairman of non-executive directors at NSFT, said the unexpected death numbers for 2015/2016 were now included in the “quality account”, which is part of the annual report and is available online.

Chief executive Michael Scott added that the trust had this year commissioned an independent review into unexpected deaths in Norfolk and Suffolk, which found that procedures were met and suicide rates were not higher than the national average.

Adam Hunter, whose daughter died due to mental health issues, said: “The number of deaths are in line with national statistics so that being the case does that mean the trust thinks it’s acceptable that this number of people are dying?

“Shouldn’t it still be a matter of focus to reduce it whether it is in line with national statistics or not? People should not be dying and they are.”

Mr Scott said: “One death is one death too many and I meet bereaved parents on a regular basis and I always apologise if we have gone wrong and ask how we can learn from this.”

Dr Bohdan Solomka, medical director for NSFT, said the trust had this year set up a serious incident review system to look at the stories and circumstances behind every single death.

After the AGM, a spokesman on behalf on the campaign group said: “We hoped that our protest at the deletion of the unexpected deaths report would stimulate some introspection from the board but they just carried on as before. ”

This month NSFT was taken out of special measures by the Care Quality Commission.

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