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'It destroys lives' - Teen's dismay at 18-month mental health delay

PUBLISHED: 06:30 12 October 2019 | UPDATED: 17:48 12 October 2019

Student Chloe Saunders who is speaking about her experience of waiting for mental health treatment.
Picture: Neil Perry

Student Chloe Saunders who is speaking about her experience of waiting for mental health treatment. Picture: Neil Perry

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It is a year since inspectors slammed the region's mental health service for making patients wait too long for help. This week they are back. Has anything changed?

Inspectors are back at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) this week. Pictured is Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: NSFTInspectors are back at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) this week. Pictured is Hellesdon Hospital. Photo: NSFT

Chloe Saunders needs help.

The 17-year old has been trying to get mental health support since her ex-boyfriend died in a car crash in 2017.

Miss Saunders, from Easton, waited 18 months to get a referral from her GP to the youth service of the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT).

The beauty therapy student had her first appointment with the NSFT in May this year and four months later she was referred for trauma therapy.

Chloe Saunders' mental health detriorated after her boyfriend died in a car crash. Picture: Neil PerryChloe Saunders' mental health detriorated after her boyfriend died in a car crash. Picture: Neil Perry

But she said she has been told the waiting list for that is around a year.

"You would hope that I wouldn't have to wait three years to start explaining things going on in my head," she said. "The system is not working. The long waits destroy lives."

Her mental health struggles spiralled following the death of her ex-boyfriend in May, 2017.

"I wouldn't get out of bed or eat," she said. "I dropped out of college, I pushed everyone away. I was in denial about his death."

Stuart Richardson Chief Operating Officer at Norwich and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) Photo:NSFTStuart Richardson Chief Operating Officer at Norwich and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) Photo:NSFT

Miss Saunders is one of hundreds of teenagers waiting for help.

When inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited the NSFT last year they found more than 630 children and young people were waiting for treatment; that figure has now fallen but is still 462.

The NSFT said reducing waiting lists was one its priorities and it had appointed a new "director of access improvement".

The Trust also said it had introduced Saturday morning clinics to increase the number of assessments and was taking on additional staff.

Chief Operating Officer Stuart Richardson said: "Demand and a limited capacity to meet it are two of the challenges we face.

"However, we are taking steps to address this."

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said schools had told him pupils were waiting 18 months for help after being referred to mental health services.

In one case a 15-year-old boy, who waited a year for an appointment, was off school for almost the entire time, he said.

Dan Edison, from Norwich, has spoken out about the long wait to get therapy with the NSFT. Photo: Dan EdisonDan Edison, from Norwich, has spoken out about the long wait to get therapy with the NSFT. Photo: Dan Edison

"Children are being horribly failed," the Liberal Democrat MP added.

CQC inspectors are back at the NSFT this week, and since their last visit, which rated the Trust "inadequate", waiting times for some mental health assessments have got worse.

Latest figures show 70pc of people referred to the NSFT in an emergency are assessed within the target of four hours.

One patient told Healthwatch Norfolk: "Last time I had to call the crisis team they took over five hours to arrive - anything could have happened in that time."

The NSFT said the fall in performance was mainly down to staff doing face-to-face referrals, which took longer, rather than just contacting them to arrange an assessment.

The number of people waiting for treatment longer than the target of 18 weeks fell to 64 this summer from 421 in October last year.

However waiting times for non-emergency referrals have worsened.

The number of people waiting longer than the target of 28 days to be assessed shot up to 1,466 in August from 912 in March.

Dan Edison referred himself to the NSFT at the start of this year, wanting therapy to cope with anxiety and depression.

The 27-year old, from Norwich, had a history of mental health problems which worsened last year after a health scare.

He was told that the waiting time for one-on-one therapy was a year but he could go to group therapy within a few months.

The advertising executive had three sessions of group therapy in May but they failed to help him and he is now on the waiting list for one-to-one therapy.

"It makes you feel like you are not being taken seriously," he said. "In that year a lot of things can happen."

He called for therapists to be placed in GP surgeries.

"I'm going to see my GP every few weeks at the moment," he said.

"There has been a massive, positive cultural shift in the way people now talk about mental health but the NHS is still playing catch up."

More than 30pc of medical jobs are vacant at the NSFT and the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said the decline in waiting times was down to staffing problems.

They pointed to massive issues within the NSFT's "crisis teams" who look after those most in need in the community.

"Many of the most experienced and highly-qualified staff are either deeply demotivated or have left the crisis teams in Norfolk over the past twelve months," a spokesman claimed.

"This is a direct result of mismanagement and a narrow focus on CQC 'targets' rather than patient welfare."

Mr Richardson, from the NSFT, said: "There is a national shortage of some healthcare professionals and, unfortunately, we are not immune from this, but we are focused on recruiting and retaining staff and also making the best possible use of the many skills that our workforce has for the benefit of service users."

He added: "Our current performance on waiting times is strong in some areas, but we acknowledge that in others we are working hard to improve."

-What inspectors said last year

Inspectors said last year they were "very concerned" about access to services and the management of patients on waiting lists at the NSFT.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) raised particular concerns about the way patients referred to the NSFT in an emergency were being treated.

"Too many referrals were handed off inappropriately or refused and downgraded from urgent," they said.

"We found many instances of people who had significant needs who were denied a service."

Some patients harmed themselves while waiting.

And they also questioned the reliability of some of the waiting list numbers, meaning the situation could be even worse than reported.

They found 2,400 adults had not been given a care coordinator which was a "serious concern".

The Trust said waiting times for some services had now improved including Psychological Therapies and Early Intervention in Psychosis.

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