Coroner confident of mental health steps

A SUFFOLK coroner who accused mental health bosses of failings in care today stood behind them, insisting he was confident improvements were being made.

A SUFFOLK coroner who accused mental health bosses of failings in care today stood behind them, insisting he was confident improvements were being made.

Coroner Dr Peter Dean had called for changes in the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust after criticising the standard of service given to Sheila Hammond, of Wickham Market, who shot herself two days after she left Ipswich's St Clement's Hospital.

But today, Dr Dean turned in support of the trust.

He said: “I have now raised all my concerns and worries.

“The mental health trust are being very cooperative and are taking the matter very seriously.

“I think they genuinely are paying attention and recognise that in a tragedy like this lessons are learnt.

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“They have shown every indication of wanting to resolve the issues.”

Yesterday The Evening Star revealed how Dr Dean, who heard the inquest into the death of mother-of-two Mrs Hammond, wrote a letter to the trust's chief Mark Halladay which said: “[I wish to draw attention] to the numerous and very significant areas of concern about the care provided to Mrs Hammond.

“…[The] lack of communication with family carers, in respect of previous leave periods as well as the final discharge, was an area of great concern to the family and the court, and you will, no doubt, be aware that this is not the first inquest I have conducted into the very sad death of a psychiatric patient where there was clearly a need to involve and listen to the family which was not acted upon.”

The inquest into Mrs Hammond's death found the 51-year-old, who had suffered from depression, committed suicide.

It emerged staff were confused about a hospital meeting to discuss her care, in which it was agreed she was allowed to go home.

Dr Dean said: “It is astonishing that the discharge could have taken place in this way.”

However Dr Dean said the evidence did not allow him to link the trust's failings to Mrs Hammond's death.

Mrs Hammond's husband Alan Hammond, who found her dead in September 2005 at their home, has vowed to sue the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust.

The trust said a series of changes had been made to try to prevent further suicides, including improving communication between staff and follow-up visits.

SUFFOLK Mental Health Partnership Trust's top boss today stressed the importance of relatives in patients' care, and admitted a failure in the case of Sheila Hammond.

Mark Halladay, chief executive of the trust, said: “I regard the involvement of families and carers in people's care as perhaps the most important element of their care, certainly at times.

“We stress that to staff and it's been a long-standing matter of good practice that families and carers should be involved in discharge planning unless the patient says 'no'.

“Mrs Hammond was un unusual case in that there was a lack of communication with the family, and we have now re-stressed it to staff.”

Mr Halladay said the Mental Capacity Act governed that the trust is not allowed to go against the wishes of patients when it come to talking to their relatives, apart from in extreme circumstances.

He added that staff would consult, advise and in some cases try to persuade patients to get relatives involved.

DOCUMENTS from the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust today reveal changes made last year following the suicides of 13 patients.

Issues surrounding suicide were discussed by the trust's board members at a meeting this July and the completed picture for 2006 was scrutinised.

There were 13 suicides where the victims had been treated as an inpatient with the trust - so far this year there have been 17.

Of the 13, five happened within the first six months following discharge.

Eleven were within 14 days of the last contact with mental health services, four were within 24 hours, five within a week and two within 14 days.

Such information has not yet become public for this year.

An audit identified a need for improved ways of providing information to carers and families on how to contact members of the team and a contact card which provides contact numbers for families and service users was introduced.

Robert Bolas, the trust's deputy chief executive, said at the time: “Staff can often see it as failure and are greatly affected by such tragedies, even though the evidence suggests that the majority of suicides are not predictable and/or preventable.”

Other improvements to policies, training, education and practice related to suicide prevention included the development of a joint strategy with Suffolk Primary Care Trust on suicide prevention, a more robust approach to physical health care, investment in prevention and management aggression trainers, improvements to ensure that CPR training and equipment are available in all locations where care is provided and suicide prevention training sessions including risk assessment.

THIS week's criticism of mental health services in Suffolk follows a round of cuts last year.

As part of the crippling debts within the county's NHS, closures were announced including:

The Pines, an occupational therapy centre for people with mental health problems, and The Hollies, a garden centre providing employment for mental health patients

Bridge House, Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, and Old Fox House, Stowmarket, clubhouses for people with mental health problems

A five-bed 72-hour assessment unit at St Clement's Hospital

The Primary Intermediate Mental Health Service (PIMHS) for people in Ipswich with less severe mental health problems

the area also lost Age Concern's ACCESS service for people with dementia when Suffolk County Council's social care department cut its funding.

Warnings about the affects were made last year as the cuts set in.

Marion Sharpe, former acting manager of Bridge House clubhouse, said: “I seriously think closing the centres is a mistake.”

And Richard Geater, a member of the clubhouse for five years, said: “Members are so used to having it there, it will come as a shock when they can't just call in.”

Suffolk Coastal District councillor Sherrie Green said: “This council has been clear in its concerns about the impact that the proposed changes in local health services would have on our residents and I have strongly lobbied the government.”