Mental health trust 'sorry' after Ipswich unit was forced to close beds
PUBLISHED: 05:30 26 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:32 27 June 2019
Campaigners are warning that mental health services in Suffolk and Norfolk are in "meltdown" after a unit caring for people with learning disabilities was temporarily unable to admit new patients.
Six inpatient beds at Walker Close, Ipswich's Adult Learning Disability Service, had to close to new admissions from the end of March until the beginning of June - because a consultant psychiatrist was not in post. That meant one patient was sent out of the trust area for treatment - and bosses at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), which runs the service, has apologised for this.
It would have been unsafe to admit new patients in these circumstances, it said, and the unit is now back open.
However, parents are worried about the future of the service, which supports people who have a learning disability and mental health needs.
Healthwatch Suffolk's chief executive Andy Yacoub said his organisation also has concerns for the service's long-term plans, adding: "Up until now, the trust has not spoken with us about its proposals."
News of the temporary closure comes as trust documents, seen by this newspaper, reveal patients in crisis are still being sent up to 250 miles away for care.
In February, we exposed what campaigners dubbed a "scandal" of people being routinely sent out of area for treatment.
Four months on, and a new list of placements in March and April 2019 reveals NSFT patients were being sent to places like The Priory Hospital Middleton St George in Darlington (250 miles away), The Cygnet Hospital Kewstoke in Weston-Super-Mare (230 miles away) and The Priory Hospital in Altrincham, near Manchester (225 miles away).
Seven people were sent away in a single day on March 15, and NSFT patients spent more than 4,200 days outside the trust from January 1 to March 31, according to official NHS data, at a cost of £2million.
What's the situation at Walker Close now?
Trust bosses have since been able to recruit a consultant psychiatrist at Walker Close, which means the unit is now open to new admissions.
"We have six inpatient beds at Walker Close which remain open to new admissions," the NSFT's chief operating officer Stuart Richardson said in a statement, tweeted by the Suffolk Parent Carer Network.
"It is true that for a period of about two months recently, they were closed to admissions.
"This was because we did not have a consultant psychiatrist in post and it would have been unsafe to have admitted new patients in these circumstances.
He added: "I apologise to those service users who had to be cared for outside of Suffolk - and also to their families and carers - as a result of the temporary closure, which we worked to rectify as soon as possible."
The trust's aim is to prevent people with a learning disability being admitted in the first place, Mr Richardson said.
"That is why we have an intensive support team that works in the community with service users, parents, carers and partner organisations, such as GPs and social care teams, to provide additional support at home in order to prevent admissions," he added.
Parents or patients with questions or concerns can discuss issues with Mr Richardson at 01603 421179 or via email.
Where have mental health patients been sent?
The map featured in this article shows how far mental health patients are being sent for treatment.
It is based on data from March and April of this year, supplied by NSFT.
- Cygnet Hospital Kewstoke, Weston-Super-Mare
- Priory Hospital Altrincham
- Priory Hospital Middleton St George, Darlington
- Priory Hospital Bristol
- Cygnet Hospital Bierley
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However, a significant number of patients were cared for closer to home, at hospitals such as:
- The Priory Hospital, Chelmsford
- Mundesley Hospital, Gimmingham
- Kneesworth House Hospital, Royston
- Cygnet Hospital Stevenage
- Priory Grange Potters Bar
Rated inadequate for the third time in four years in November, the NSFT had the fourth highest number of 'inappropriate' bed days spent out of the trust area in the country between January 1 and March 31.
New NHS Digital data shows patients in mental health crisis spent 4,215 days receiving treatment outside Suffolk and Norfolk in this time frame, up from 2,970 between September 1 and November 30.
Seven patients were sent away in a single day on March 15, trust documents reveal.
The total cost for NSFT's 'inappropriate' out of area placements hit £2million from January to the end of March - compared with £1.27m from September to the end of November.
'Scandal getting worse', campaigners claim
Campaigners have warned our mental health service is in "meltdown".
They say they are "more likely to believe in Narnia" than NSFT's promises to end out of area placements by 2021, a pledge they have failed to deliver in recent years.
"CQC inspectors have repeatedly found that NSFT does not have enough beds," said a spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk.
"Since the failed CQC inspection of NSFT in September 2018, the number of nights spent out of area by patients from Norfolk and Suffolk has nearly tripled.
"How is this the improvement in weeks that our local MPs demanded in January 2019? It is the opposite.
"Quite frankly, mental health services in Suffolk and Norfolk are in meltdown and the number of patients in crisis being transported, sometimes hundreds of miles away, is a reflection of this collapse in community, crisis and inpatient provision.
The spokesman added: "Why should we have any faith in these 'ambitions' when in January 2014, commissioners promised that there would be no out of area placements after April 2014.
"The date for ending out of area placements has been continually revised yet transportation of people in crisis has rocketed to record levels."
What did NSFT bosses have to say?
Mr Richardson added: "Unfortunately, Walker Close was unavoidably closed to new admissions from the end of March until 5 June because of the retirement of a consultant psychiatrist.
"It would have been unsafe to have admitted new patients in these circumstances. Our doctors based at the Woodlands unit on the site of Ipswich Hospital provided cover for the service users who had already been admitted.
"Before the retirement, we tried on many occasions to recruit a consultant but without success until June 5 when a new consultant started and Walker Close reopened to new admissions.
"While it was temporarily closed, only one service user who would normally have been admitted there had to be sent out of area. We apologise to this service user and their family, but I know that the service user was satisfied with the care provided."
Mr Richardson said he had been aware of concerns raised by parents about Walker Close, which is why earlier this week he sent an update to carers organisations in Suffolk.
NSFT is making progress on reducing the trust's overall number of inappropriate out of area placements, he added.
"Currently, we have an average of about 45 service users receiving care outside of our area because there is no bed available for them locally, which is a reduction of about 30 on the average figure from about three months," he said.
"Much of this improvement is the result of successful admission avoidance schemes.
"Eliminating inappropriate out of area placements remains a priority for NSFT and we are working closely with partner organisations to achieve this by the national deadline of April 2021.
"If a service user has to be sent outside of Suffolk, we apologise to them and their families, and then work very hard to identify a placement as close to home as possible and aim to repatriate them at the earliest opportunity."