Suffolk: Mental health boss rejects crisis claims

Gary Page, Chairman of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation Trust

Gary Page, Chairman of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation Trust - Credit: Lucy Taylor

As a new campaign is launched against changes to mental health services in the region, the chairman of the NHS Trust which serves Suffolk and Norfolk has denied his organisation is in crisis.

However Gary Page did accept that some of the changes introduced by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust had caused unforeseen problems – and were being partially reversed.

Overall, however, it was vital that the Trust changed the way it operated to take account of reduced funding and an increased demand on its services – it is facing a budget reduction of £40 million by 2016.

Mr Page said: “Unlike NHS acute services, our budget is not linked to the number of people demanding our services.

“As a result we are seeing an increased demand for our services at the same time as our budget is being cut. That means we have to look at new ways of providing services.”

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He said the Trust had been faced with two options – cut some of its services because of lack of money, or redesigning the way it operates with the aim of maintaining services.

It had chosen the latter, but during the changes fresh issues had become clear.

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Mr Page said: “There was a reduction in the number of staff. Much of this was through not replacing those who left.

The number of administrative staff was reduced in particular.

“However that meant that front line clinical and support staff ended up doing more administrative tasks which is not the best use of their talents so we are taking on some more administrators to help there.”

Campaigners have warned that the changes have led to long-term clients of mental health services seeing a reduction in their services – or a change in their support workers.

Mr Page recognised there had been changes, and said the Trust recognised it was in everyone’s interests that clients should be able to develop a long-term relationship with their support workers.

He said: “We know it is important that clients should be able to build trust with their support workers and we want to enable that to happen. There have been changes, but this is a clear priority for us.”

Although there had been changes to the way the Trust worked with some of its clients, there had been not increase in the number of “crisis” events that had required instant action by the Trust.

Crisis events come when a client has a sudden breakdown which often involves intervention by acute health services, often in hospital casualty departments, or the police.

Mr Page said: “We have increased the psychiatric cover in accident and emergency departments to deal with people brought in with mental health problems.” The Trust was also working with the police to improve cover.

And there were other services that the Trust was able to boost – for people with autism and those suffering from eating disorders.

Although there has been concern about the number of bed closures, Mr Page said that overall the number of beds available had not changed.

And Mr Page warned that the Trust’s services would be needed by many people: “One in three people are likely to suffer from mental health problems at some stage in life – that is a very significant figure.”

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