Mental health staff consider industrial action over ‘serious safety concerns’ with crisis care

Unison members at mental health trust serving minister's constituency to start process of holding a ballot for industrial action

NHS sign
Picture: Rex Features/Phaney

Union members at the mental health trust serving care minister Norman Lamb’s north Norfolk constituency could be balloted on taking industrial action in protest at ‘serious safety concerns’ with services.

The Unison branch at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust voted unanimously to start the process of holding a ballot for industrial action after Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) from Norfolk raised serious concerns over care and ‘intolerable working conditions’ at a meeting yesterday.

At the meeting, AMHPs said they faced daily problems conducting Mental Health Act assessments due to a lack of bed availability, a situation highlighted by a Community Care investigation last year. One of the consequences, Unison said, is that patients are being transported hundreds of miles out-of-area. The AMHPs are to write to the trust’s board to suggest a series of actions that should be taken to address the problem.

Emma Corlett, Unison media spokesperson, said the problem of patients being sent out-of-area had gone on for too long and had now “worsened to a critical stage”.

“It is about time those who are on the frontline day in day out are listened to as they have the experience to know what works and more importantly what doesn’t. Industrial action is always an absolute last resort, but AMHPs do not want to rule it out in the event that the situation does not improve quickly,” said Corlett.

In March, a social worker at the trust wrote to Lamb and local commissioners because AMHPs felt they could “no longer operate on a legal basis”. At the time, Lamb said too many patients were being let down by the system. The lead NHS commissioning group for the area’s mental health service said it “fully acknowledged” the concerns.

Gary Page, chair of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, claimed on Wednesday that representatives from the ‘Campaign to save mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk’ had declined a request to meet with him and the trust’s vice-chair, a claim the campaigners say is “misleading”. Page said he wanted to “get round the table and talk”.

“There are very real financial pressures across the entire NHS and mental health services face particular pressures on funding. We’d like to see a more level playing field for the funding of mental health services and I’m sure we and the campaign have a shared agenda to discuss,” he said.

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