Revealed: How mental health patients are being sent to failing private hospital

Diane Hull, chief nurse at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo: NSFT

Diane Hull, chief nurse at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo: NSFT - Credit: NSFT

The region's mental health trust has moved to reassure over care as it was revealed patients were sent to a hospital with 'unacceptable' standards.

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) sent 21 patients to Kneesworth House, in Royston, over the last year and on Tuesday it was revealed how Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors found dirty wards and "uncaring and disrespectful" staff at Hertfordshire unit, as well as Priory Hospital Blandford in Dorset.

But Diane Hull, chief nurse at NSFT, said no trust patients were cared for in the services rated as inadequate and "private providers are regularly reviewed and robust quality checks are in place".

There are currently two patients at Kneesworth House and last week chief executive Professor Jonathan Warren said there were around 50 patients outside of the trust overall.

NSFT has to send patients out of the area, sometimes hundreds of miles away, when an inpatient bed is needed but the trust does not have enough of its own.

A spokesman for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: "We've simply had enough of this. In January 2014, commissioners and NSFT promised Norfolk County councillors and the public that Norfolk would have enough NHS beds in Norfolk by the end of April 2014. That's over five years ago.

"But, since then, despite warm smiles and more targets, the beds crisis has become worse and worse and tens of millions of pounds has been wasted on transporting people in crisis across the country to often poor quality private hospital chains.

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"Where is the next Kneesworth House or Mundesley Hospital? This has to stop. We need enough NHS beds in Norfolk."

Inspectors found that patients at the Royston facility were wearing trainers in bed to avoid being poked awake with keys by nursing staff, adding that some were "antagonised" by those caring for them.

They also reported finding ripped furnishings in dirty wards at the facility, which cares for men and women diagnosed with mental illness and personality disorder.

Ms Hull added: "We have a dedicated, clinically-led bed management team, who closely and continually monitor the quality of care patients receive while they are out of area and work hard to get them back closer to home and with the right support as soon as possible."

A spokesman for Priory, which runs the hospitals, said: "At Kneesworth, a major investment plan is under way to ensure the environment is improved.

"While we accept the forensic service fell below expected standards, the CQC rated the hospital's acute mental health and rehabilitation services, which make up the greatest proportion of patients, as good, and said that, overall, the hospital was good for being effective and responsive."

Ms Hull added: "The government has set the target of eliminating inappropriate out of area placements in mental health services for adults in acute inpatient care by 2020/21. We are confident that we can achieve this by working closely with our partner organisations.

"We are developing a whole new approach to bed management and more resources are being used to support service users in their own homes and to prevent them from requiring acute inpatient care.

"We are also working with social care and third sector colleagues to improve communications and patient flow to minimise delayed transfers of care.

"In addition, we're working on a number of initiatives to use our inpatient beds more efficiently, which will reduce length of stay and free up beds.

"These include 16 new adult assessment beds on Yare Ward - to open in September - crisis house provision in central Norfolk - from October - and a central Norfolk-based rehabilitation and recovery service - from April 2020."