Social workers alert Lamb to ‘unsafe and illegal’ mental health crisis care in his constituency

Approved Mental Health Professionals in Norfolk and Suffolk say beds crisis means they can ‘no longer operate on a legal basis’

Picture credit: 'the campaign to save mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk'
Picture credit: 'the campaign to save mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk'

Care minister Norman Lamb has been alerted to unsafe mental health crisis care in his constituency after frontline staff told him a lack of psychiatric beds meant they could “no longer operate on a legal basis”.

In a letter to North Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, a copy of which was also sent to the minister in his capacity as MP for North Norfolk, a group of Approved Mental Health Professionals warned that a mental health beds crisis across Norfolk and Suffolk was “worsening by the day”. The situation is putting patients at risk and leading to breaches of the Mental Health Act, the AMHPs said.

We can no longer operate on a legal basis’

Download a copy of the AMHPs’ letter to NHS commissioners.

A copy of the letter has also been sent to social care regulator the Care Quality Commission.

The AMHPs’ letter states: “It is only a matter of time before an aggrieved patient or relative takes legal action over this issue…We need urgent action from government, the mental health trust and NHS commissioners to rectify this situation, which is not only harming patients but also destroying the morale of professional staff.”

The AMHPs added that they were “appalled” that mental health provider Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust is proposing further bed closures. The letter also accuses local NHS commissioners of failing to commission enough beds and of breaching their statutory duty under the Mental Health Act to identify a hospital where patients can be admitted in cases of “special urgency”.

Responding to the letter, Norman Lamb said too many patients in Norfolk are being “let down by the system”. In his role as care minister Lamb recently launched the government’s ‘mental health crisis care concordat’ in a bid to improve care across England.

‘Care is too often simply not adequate’

Read Norman Lamb’s full statement in response to the AMHPs’ letter.

“Concerns continue to be expressed about the way our current system is working. I will continue to campaign for better care for those with mental health conditions here in Norfolk, and across the country,” he said.

A spokeswoman for North Norfolk clinical commissioning group – the lead commissioners for mental health services across the county – said the group “fully acknowledges and shares the concerns” raised by the AMHPs in the letter. The commissioners will work with mental health provider Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust to “resolve capacity issues” around inpatient care, she added.

“Meanwhile, we have agreed with the trust  that there will be no further bed closures for functional mental health patients until or unless there is written agreement from local commissioners and adequate, proven alternatives are in place, and working for patients,” the spokeswoman said.

Kathy Chapman, director of operations at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said the trust also “share” the concerns of AMHPs. The trust is looking to create “temporary accommodation” for patients experiencing delays getting acute beds and was also looking at measures to free up capacity in its crisis resolution teams, she added.

Emma Corlett, spokesperson for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s Unison branch, said: “The concerns in the letter are sadly typical of the situations AMHPs tell us they are facing on a frequent basis. We wrote to the CQC on January 2013 to warn of a worsening situation. It is exceptionally stressful and distressing for staff trying to maintain a person’s safety in such circumstances, let alone the distress to the person who is being assessed under the Mental Health Act. This is the real impact of cuts and bed closures.”

The AMHPs’ letter marks the latest in a series of criticisms of mental health care and staffing levels at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust.

In November last year, frontline staff launched the ‘campaign to save mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk’ amid concerns over care. In January, Norfolk council announced it would be reclaiming control of adult social care mental health services from the trust. Last week the Eastern Daily Press revealed that the trust, which has cut hundreds of jobs over the last year, is set to launch a recruitment campaign overseas to help fill vacancies.

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