Health secretary vows to ‘get to bottom’ of mental health crisis in own backyard
PUBLISHED: 19:35 29 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:56 30 November 2018
PA Wire/PA Images
Radical action is needed to tackle the crisis facing Suffolk’s mental health trust, the health secretary has said.
Matt Hancock also admitted the prospect of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) facing a ‘failure regime’ cannot be ruled out.
In an interview with this newspaper, the West Suffolk MP vowed to “get to the bottom” of problems facing the organisation.
Patients are safe but access to care is not good enough, the cabinet minister warned – and questions remain over whether the future for mental health care in Suffolk is one separate from Norfolk.
“We need to take more radical action to make sure that in the future, people get better access to mental health services,” he said.
“There are two parts to this. The first is it’s reasonable to ask the question of whether trying to cover the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk with one trust is right.
“And secondly, lots of people are understandably asking why mental health services run completely separately from community services, hospitals and the rest of the NHS.”
He was speaking as NSFT was ranked ‘inadequate’ for the third time in four years.
Like the Care Quality Commission (CQC), Mr Hancock said intervention from the government via a special administration arrangement is not being ruled out at this stage.
Only two health trusts have ever been taken over in this way – and never a mental health trust.
One of those was Mid Staffordshire Trust – known as Mid Staffs – and campaigners have dubbed the NSFT crisis the “mental health Mid Staffs”.
If this was to happen, Mr Hancock would parachute in a special administrator to help the struggling trust.
He said: “[Special administration] hasn’t been ruled out.
“But it wasn’t the recommendation of the CQC.
“It’s perfectly possible to take more radical action without going through the step of special administration.”
MORE: ‘Last chance’ mental health trust bosses talks about CQC report
Asked what may happen instead, Mr Hancock added: “In Suffolk, there’s already a public engagement and service user exercise going on, about how we might want to structure and commission mental health services in the future.”
And he was clear that the crisis currently affecting NSFT will be sorted out.
“I understand the anguish of those who have lost loved ones, and the frustration of service users who don’t get a good enough service, even more so those who can’t access it at all,” he said.
“I understand the pain and difficulties that it causes, and I’ve supported some heartbreaking cases in my constituency.
“That makes me even more determined to get to the bottom of it.”
Urgent work is currently under way between Suffolk’s CCGs, NSFT and the NHS at a national level.
These bodies are putting a plan together to ensure mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk are turned around.
“My role in this as a local MP is to make the case for my own constituents,” Mr Hancock added.
“And as health secretary, I have an oversight of the system as a whole.”
He will be working with NHS England, who commission mental health services, in weeks to come.
MORE: ‘Families are paying the ultimate price’ – Lawyer’s view as failings at struggling trust exposed
Governor to write to health secretary
One of the trust’s governors is to write to health secretary Matt Hancock to demand NSFT is taken into government control.
Anne Humphrys, who is also co-chair of the Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said families trying to access services were being left high and dry by NSFT.
She said: “We’ve got seven year olds saying they want to end their lives. We believe that we’ve reached a point now where we are not capable of improving.
“They’ve been given loads of time to make the changes which is why we’ve reached this decision.”
She said while the choice to write the letter had made her unpopular with some fellow governors, she felt it was the right thing to do.
“It’s not difficult for me because I feel I’m doing the right thing,” she said.
“I’m here to represent the public and carers.
“I hope [Matt Hancock] sees how desperate things are.”