Children's mental health: Is Suffolk getting a raw deal?
PUBLISHED: 05:00 02 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:56 02 July 2019
Vulnerable youngsters are being "failed by the system", a parent group is warning after a watchdog identified disparities in children's mental health provision across Suffolk and Norfolk.
In a recent report into the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT)'s specialist mental health services for children and young people, Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors found services in Norfolk "appeared better funded and staffed" than those in Suffolk.
Youngsters were continuing to face long waits, they said, and staff in Suffolk were struggling to keep up with demand.
NSFT bosses said the report recognises "some progress has been made in all areas, and said they are working to establish a more joined-up approach to children and young people's mental health, by establishing a new CFYP (children, families and young people) directorate.
However, inspectors also discovered:
- Suffolk was not included in a recruitment campaign for youth teams, so managers had to submit a separate business case to improve staffing
- There were staff shortages in Ipswich, so much so that Norwich had to provide cover three days a week
- Suffolk and the Great Yarmouth and Waveney teams were struggling to meet demand
- There were significant capacity and demand issues in Suffolk
- Morale was lower in Suffolk than in Norfolk
- There were 1,100 people on the Suffolk Emotional Wellbeing Hub's waiting list, which managers were working to reduce
- There were long waits for people with ADHD in West Suffolk
Outlining their concerns after a focussed visit earlier this year, inspectors said: "There appeared to be a disparity between Norfolk and Suffolk services in terms of resource, with Norfolk appearing better funded and staffed.
"Suffolk staff described feeling overwhelmed with work and concerned that demand outstripped capacity, specifically where vacancies remained high."
Their report was one of the first published since the NSFT was ranked inadequate for the third time in four years.
It comes as Walker Close, an Ipswich unit for people with learning disabilities and mental ill health, had to close for eight weeks due to staffing issues.
What did parent groups have to say?
Anne Humphrys, co-chair of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said: "We know of young people that have had to wait so long to access services that they are self-harming and ending up in hospital. This is completely unacceptable and we are gravely concerned that the services provided by the NSFT are not safe.
"These reports tell us what we already knew - that Suffolk is the poor relation to Norfolk when it comes to the provision of services."
She claims the children and young people's team in Great Yarmouth and Waveney has more staff than the whole of Suffolk for children and young people.
Ms Humphrys added: "There is a lack of drive and urgency to improve services and make them safe for the families of Suffolk and so we are not surprised by these reports.
"Despite us being given assurance after the full CQC inspection last year that NSFT was given 'weeks to improve', we have seen no tangible improvements which are benefitting our families.
"Behind each of these issues are children and young people whose needs are not being met and who are being failed by the system."
'The people of Suffolk deserve so much better'
Campaigners fighting for better mental health services in Suffolk and Norfolk claim the situation is similar elsewhere in the trust.
They feel children and young people are being "shockingly let down", and that the CQC report "pointedly observes that the NSFT focuses its attention on Norfolk and neglects Suffolk".
"This has long been our experience and not just in relation to CFYP," said a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk
"Even within Suffolk there is variation, with the inadequate community services for children and young people better resourced in Waveney than in the rest of Suffolk."
They claim the merger between the Norfolk and Suffolk mental health trusts was supposed to safeguard frontline services, and added: "Frontline services in Suffolk have been savagely cut.
"The people of Suffolk, especially its children and young people, deserve so much better."
NSFT to adopt more joined-up approach to children's mental health
Trust bosses welcomed the CQC report, which did suggest waiting times at the wellbeing hub had improved and that staff were starting to feel listened to in Suffolk.
Pat Long, deputy director of operations in Suffolk, said: "The report, which recognises that 'some progress has been made in all areas', highlights issues that we were aware of and are working hard to address.
"We have exciting plans to transform the delivery of CFYP mental health services in Suffolk, including the establishment of a CFYP directorate."
The first phase of this is well under way, she said.
"This new approach, which will include a much higher degree of collaborative working with partner agencies, aims to reduce waits, deliver more focused care and provide high-quality patient care for children, families and young people in the county," she added.
"The directorate will support the new NSFT care group models for the management and leadership of the service in the county.
"Our staff will be more CFYP-focused in management and clinical structure, with service-specific training, increased staffing levels and a reporting line to meet the demand and needs of children and young people accessing our service, which will be under our new service and improved pathways for CFYP in Suffolk.
"Over the summer and early autumn, partners in the alliances will be looking at how mental health services can work more effectively alongside, and as part of, other child and family services, most notably Children and Young People Services in Suffolk County Council.
"This will give us the opportunity to look at how we deliver the needs of children, families and young people together as an alliance."
'Underlying inequality' between Suffolk and Norfolk remains - MP
Dr Dan Poulter, who works as a mental health doctor alongside his role as an MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said there is a shortage of people wanting to work in children's mental health services nationally.
"It is a national issue, but I think this problem is much more acute in Suffolk," he said.
"There is an underlying inequality between Suffolk and Norfolk, and it has been that way historically too.
"Unfortunately, the last three recruitment campaigns for CAMHS (Children and Adult Mental Health Services) nurses and doctors in Suffolk have been unsuccessful.
"We need to attract people to Suffolk and I think a way of doing that could be to offer them relocation packages (i.e. cash incentives, like golden hellos where doctors are paid £50,000 to move to a certain area), to encourage them to work here.
He added: "Suffolk deserves better, and right now patients are not being given access to, or getting, the care they deserve."
Walker Close had to shut for two months because it didn't have a psychiatrist, and Lark Ward at Woodlands had to close as well last year because of staffing issues.
Dr Poulter said: "Solving staff shortages must be a priority for the new leadership team at NSFT. I think it's going to be a long term challenge which may take up to 18 months to resolve."
'Worrying Suffolk-centered issues identified'
Healthwatch Suffolk's chief executive Andy Yacoub said the report adds further evidence to their view that the only way forward for Suffolk is a strategy for the county not built around NSFT.
"Poor access to good quality and timely provision - particularly around crisis care needs - has meant many people have gone without the support they need with detrimental, and at times tragic, consequences for their quality of life.
"This latest report references worrying Suffolk-centered issues.
"A glance at our Feedback Centre calls attention to experiences which indicate services need significant improvement."