Cross-party letter demands end to ‘chaos and confusion’ in Norfolk and Suffolk mental health
PUBLISHED: 18:16 23 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:04 24 January 2019
A cross-party group of MPs have demanded the “chaos and confusion must end” over the region’s failing mental health care provision.
Seven MPs from Norfolk and Suffolk, representing the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats, have written to regulator NHS Improvement (NHSI) to slam the “unacceptable drift” in coming up with a plan for how to fix failings at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).
NSFT was rated as inadequate for the third time in November - making it the worst mental health trust in the country.
And despite cries for it to be placed into government control under special administration, or for the trust to be split up, this did not happen - and the MPs said they felt no more confident in change following a meeting with NHSI last week.
The letter, signed by Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk), Clive Lewis (Labour MP for Norwich South), Sir Henry Bellingham (Conservative MP for North West Norfolk), Richard Bacon (Conservative MP for South Norfolk), George Freeman (Conservative MP for Mid Norfolk), Peter Aldous (Conservative MP for Waveney), and Dr Dan Poulter (Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and north Ipswich) said after the meeting they were “inevitably left with a sense that there is unacceptable drift in terms of determining the future of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust”.
It said: “It also seems clear that there is no agreed way forward. This chaos and confusion must end.
“After one year and three months of this trust being in special measures, with the CQC concluding in the autumn that the performance of the trust had actually deteriorated, it is vital that a clear plan emerges soon to give reassurance to those who rely on mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk, and their families.
“It is also vitally important for staff to see that there is an agreed plan in place, to give them encouragement and reassurance for the future.”
They demanded a plan be published by February 20, but it was not clear what action would be taken if this did not happen.
Mr Lamb added: “The lack of information regarding plans for Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has gone on for far too long. It’s difficult to understate how concerning this is for patients and staff in particular, and the rest of the public.
“We have a trust which has been rated inadequate for a third time. The fact that the performance of the trust has deteriorated since it went into special measures in 2017 brings into question the effectiveness of NHSI as a regulator. How have they allowed this to happen?
“Clearly, urgent action is needed. That’s why I’m working with a group of Norfolk and Suffolk MPs from different parties to demand a plan.
“We may have a range of views about what should happen to the trust, but what’s important is that we’ve come together from the local area and all agree that NHS Improvement, and the other key organisations involved, have had enough time to figure out what steps to take.
“Providing certainty for all those people who are worried about the trust is the least that can be done at this stage.”
Mr Bacon said he had spoken to the health secretary Matt Hancock about the situation a number of times in recent weeks.
He added: “People from across my constituency came to see me in my surgery on Friday morning last week. They had been personally affected by it and there have been people dying because of the failure of NSFT.”
Mr Lewis said: “What’s being asked for here is the absolute minimum we should expect. I’m asking again just in case it’s different this time but I won’t be holding my breath. But when you take a step back from all of this, that’s when the absurdity of all of this becomes obvious. It really should not be necessary to continually cajole and threaten this government and this trust just to do their bloody job of providing safe, accessible and timely mental healthcare to the people of our city.”
An NHS Improvement spokesman said: “We continue to provide intensive support to the trust and are working with partners in the local healthcare system to ensure that sustainable improvements are made for patients.”
NSFT has been contacted for further comment.
But previously NSFT chief executive Antek Lejk said: “Although we have been working hard to make improvements, we recognise that the actions we have taken so far have not resulted in the rapid progress which both the CQC and our trust had hoped for.
“Since receiving the draft report, we have been taking action to address the immediate concerns found by the CQC and listening to our staff and service users to make sure we fully understand the deeper challenges faced by the trust. This will allow our new senior management team to make long-term, sustainable changes which are based on their knowledge and experience and also draw on best practice from across the wider NHS. We are determined to get things right.”
A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “We are so pleased to hear some of our local MPs speak out about the chaos in mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. The rest of our local politicians need to join them and we already know that several of them will. This current intolerable situation cannot continue.
“The NHS bureaucracy cannot agree what to do next, with some parts, particularly NHS Improvement and commissioners, seeing saving face as more important than patient safety. Everybody needs to look at the lessons of the Mid Staffs scandal and make patient care rather than reputation the priority.”
The spokesman called for Alan Yates, who was previously the improvement director at NSFT, be returned to the trust.
An improvement director is provided by NHSI when a healthcare trust fails, in order to help them recover.
Philippa Slinger, NSFT’s improvement director, is also responsible for turning around the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.
The spokesman added: “If NHS improvement and the board of NSFT is incapable of improvement, the secretary of state, Matthew Hancock, must intervene. Special administration isn’t perfect but, in the absence of any other solution, it is inevitable.”