There is an old phrase that ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’ and whilst this can be true of a great deal of modern life, there is still such a thing as bad news and bad results. It is the latter two that have dogged Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) for most of 2022 to date. The Trust provides child and adult mental health services in Norfolk and north Suffolk.
In April 2022, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) published a report that classified the Trust as being ‘inadequate’ – the lowest possible rating. The report was based on inspections that has taken place in November and December 2021.
Whilst those inspections did rate the care element provided as ‘good’, the Trust was found to be ‘inadequate’ in the areas of being ‘safe’, ‘effective’ and being ‘well led’.
At the time of her appointment she said “I am incredibly excited to have been chosen to be chair. Everyone I’ve spoken to, internally and externally, has told me that the Trust is an improving organisation, led with compassion. Your hard work is shining through.”
Once the inspection report was published, she stated that “NSFT wants to provide quality specialist mental health care. Where we have made successful improvements, this has been in partnership with patients, services users and of course our staff – and we must now replicate this approach in all areas.
“We now have a leadership team with clear and ambitious plans and changes in how we work across the health and care system means we have an opportunity to provide mental health services differently. We are determined to make the required changes with pace and focus.”
This was reiterated by Stuart Richardson, Chief Executive Officer of NSFT who said: “We fully accept the areas that the CQC say need to improve. The people of Norfolk and Suffolk deserve good quality mental health services and we are committed to achieving this.”
Then in August came two more blows to the Trust: a letter indicating that over 140 doctors lacked confidence in the running of the trust, and, the result of an inquest into the death of one of their patients, Eliot Harris.
The letter from the doctors was sent to the Chief Executive by the Medical Staffing Committee (MSC) and detailed concerns from staffing to culture, management through to workload, with staff often feeling like ‘clinical workhorses’ and the knowledge and experience of the staff not being utilised.
The reporting of the letter prompted comment from local politicians, including Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who said the letter was “particularly concerning” to him as a doctor. He added that it was “fairly unprecedented” for a group to take action in this way.
North Norfolk MP Duncan Baker called for the Health Minister to intervene and for the Government to take control of the trust.
Following on from a meeting with the MSC on 11 August, Zoe Buckingham posted on twitter “Good to talk to many of our hard-working, overstretched doctors to hear their concerns, analysis and clearly stated wish to be fully involved in taking our improvement forward. You will be – that’s a promise. We can only get better if we do this together.”
As for the tragic case of Eliot Harris, he died in April 2020 whilst he was at Northgate Hospital in Great Yarmouth. He was there as a result of being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
At the time the coroner recoded an ‘open’ verdict but the inquest heard that not only was the hospital so short of staff due to the Covid-19 pandemic that its crisis team was required to work on the wards but, more worryingly, that some of the records were changed following his death.
It also emerged that ‘management’ had encouraged the altering of records and that three members of staff had since been sacked.
With the NHS in England setting out measures to boost capacity before the onset of winter, the pressure is on for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust to rise to the aspirations of the chair.