Revealed: People waiting more than a DAY for emergency mental health treatment
PUBLISHED: 08:00 23 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:59 23 November 2019
Patients in mental health crisis are still waiting more than four hours to be seen in an emergency – with the longest delays going beyond an entire day.
That's what health bosses were told at the most recent Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) board meeting, in which medical director Bohdan Solomka announced he was stepping down from his role.
More than one in four 'emergency referrals' in Suffolk and Norfolk (26%), were not assessed within four hours in September, according to the trust.
Some patients - particularly in west Norfolk, north Norfolk and Norwich - were not seen for 12 hours, with 25 referrals not assessed within a 24-hour period. The target is to see 95% of all patients in four hours, but in September, the NSFT saw just 74%.
The trust, rated 'inadequate' three times in a row by the Care Quality Commission, was criticised by the watchdog last November for its failure to hit waiting time targets, with inspectors warning rising numbers of people were struggling to access the service.
Long waits 'of particular concern'
Chief operating officer Stuart Richardson said: "Disappointingly, we are not making the improvements that people want us to make in this area. People are coming into our services increasingly rapidly."
Fellow director Daryl Chapman added: "This is of particular concern to us, because this isn't just a few minutes over four hours, some people - particularly in west Norfolk, Norwich and north Norfolk - are waiting more than half a day, and in some cases, more than a day."
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Emergency referrals assessed within four hours were better last year (averaging around 92%-93%), before the CQC inspected, but this year performance has decreased significantly - dipping to the lowest figure of 71% in March.
According to trust bosses, the drop has been largely down to a clinical change on December 1 - which required 100% of all emergency four-hour referrals to be seen face-to-face by a clinician.
How is the trust faring in other areas?
Diane Hull, chief nurse, said there had been 25 serious incidents in September and October, with 16 unexpected deaths.
This has prompted a blanket ban on a particular material in adult wards.
The trust has seen progress in bringing down the number of bed days spent out of area from 1,212 in August to 574 in September, she added. Nine people are currently being treated out of area, a significant drop from the high numbers reported in February by this newspaper.
Early feedback from the CQC report suggests they have made some improvements, chief executive Professor Jonathan Warren added, and the full assessment is due to be published in January.
Young people's services 'struggling'
Performance issues were reported in services for Suffolk's young people.
None of the seven children looked after by Suffolk's autism disorder service were seen within 13 weeks of referral as of the end of September, a situation non-executive director Ken Applegate described as being "quite stark".
Mr Richardson said he is looking into it, with chief executive Jonathan Warren adding it "raises a number of questions".
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And less than one in three under-19s with an eating disorder (30%) received urgent treatment within a week, this was down 25%.
Mr Richardson said eating disorder waits had been a "particular issue" for Suffolk-based patients, but work is happening now to establish a standalone service alongside the CCGs.
Anne Humphrys, from the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said the group "continues to be concerned" about waiting times, particularly for those with autism spectrum disorder.
'Sea of red and downward arrows'
Campaigners raised concerns about the trust's performance, particularly when it came to patients in crisis.
"The performance indicators at the mental health trust are a sea of red and downward arrows," said a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk.
"In many critical areas, such as emergency assessments, performance has markedly deteriorated rather than improved since the most recent 'inadequate' CQC inspection.
"We are at a loss to understand how the mental health trust's continuing deterioration can be tolerated when in January of this year NSFT was told it had just weeks to improve and it clearly has not.
He added: "Insufficient resources are part of the explanation."
Ms Hull told the board that work has begun to address staffing issues, with 34 new nurses appointed this week.
From August 2018 to the same month this year, 175 new starters were taken on, Professor Warren added.
But voluntary turnover has increased to the highest number in 12 months, with work-life balance the biggest reason for people leaving.
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