OPINION: Radical action needed over our failing mental health trust

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: Bill Smith

Hellesdon Hospital, the headquarters of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2012

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has been failing for eight years. Fundamentally I do not have faith in the institution anymore, and I am not comfortable with the fates and wellbeing of some of my most vulnerable constituents being in their hands. 

Personally I think radical action is required. 

This week I was at a host of meetings about the NSFT. In Parliament on Tuesday, the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk met the Minister for Mental Health and MPs from across Suffolk and Norfolk. 

We heard the harrowing personal testimonies from families who had lost loved ones. I heard mothers’ and fathers’ stories of how the trust had failed their children, and how the consequences of this were utterly devastating. No parent should have to go through losing their child, and especially not to preventable deaths. 

These stories were upsetting, and difficult to hear. I am sure they were difficult to tell, too. However, it was incredibly important to lay in front of the Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan, the desperate state of affairs with our mental health trust. It would have been impossible to have attended that meeting without coming out of it with your eyes wide open about the drastic need for radical change.

Suffolk and Norfolk's mental health trust is one of the worst in the country. The scale of the failure in NSFT is staggering. Over the last eight years, the trust has been served four ‘inadequate’ ratings.

If this was the first evidence of failure, we might be more inclined to give the trust the benefit of the doubt – however time and time again the institution has shown it is incapable of reforming itself.

Most Read

The time has run out for internal management and tinkering changes. We need to fresh start and in the short term a special administration unit to run mental health services.

We are well beyond this point and now I believe the only option is for the Department for Health and Social Care to designate the trust as in special measures. I can’t imagine a situation where special measures would be more necessary. 

This is about whether or not I trust the organisation with the lives of some of the most vulnerable people within my constituency. The honest answer is that I don't.

One of the individuals giving a saddening testimony was a constituent from Ipswich, who I was pleased to speak in-depth with following the meeting.

She has worked closely in the past both within the trust to try to help make improvements and externally, and the frustration with the lack of change is clear. She told me about what needs to change, and how many attempts to improve the organisation have failed in the past. 

It's clear that although many of the frontline staff work very hard and mostly efficiently to support those in need of mental health support, the senior management appears to have fostered a toxic culture over many years.

There seems to be little accountability and I've been shocked by the frequency with which major errors, which have often led to catastrophic consequences, have occurred.

Time and time again we have seen the same recommendations and failures noted on Prevention of Future Death forms from the coroner.

On Thursday, I had a further discussion with Minister Gillian Keegan, Norfolk and Suffolk MPs, and individuals from the CQC and NSFT.

We need to get the wheels of change in motion. Sadly it seems that many people involved with the future of the provision of mental health services in Suffolk and Norfolk still don’t get it.

We’ve had over eight years of broken promises. I’m not interested tinkering and “strategic patience”. My patience on this issue is running thin and it is time for radical change.

So I am supporting the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk in their call for remedial interventions, including special measures, urgently.

There is a strong case for the Department for Health taking over the management of the Trust in the short term. In the medium to long term we need a serious think about what any future structure will look like. My sense is that Suffolk and Norfolk Mental Health Trust cannot continue to exist in its current form. It's gone too far for that. The organisation seems too broken, and the culture too toxic. 

My personal view as the MP for the Town is clear: Ipswich deserves better, and radical change is needed to deliver it.

- Tom Hunt is the Conservative MP for Ipswich