Suffolk campaign group taking mental health fight to Parliament

Protesters holding signs

A Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk protest in 2016 - Credit: Steve Adams

Campaigners from Suffolk and Norfolk will be taking their fight for improved mental health services to Parliament next Tuesday.

Members of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk will be meeting MPs to demand a public inquiry into the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT).

NSFT has been rated 'inadequate' by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) four times since 2017 and many campaigners have voiced their frustration at a service they say is unfit for purpose.

A campaign spokesman said: “We are taking our call for an independent statutory public inquiry to Parliament to get our Norfolk and Suffolk MPs to support us so that we can establish how many people have lost their lives and why the wider system has failed the citizens of Norfolk and Suffolk by allowing this unsafe situation (four failed CQC inspections) to go on for so many years.

"We want to understand the scale of the problem and the root of it so the same mistakes don’t continue to be made and more lives are not needlessly lost.

"We are also demanding NSFT be placed in special administration and replaced with a well-funded and functioning mental health organisation."

Stuart Richardson, chief executive of NSFT, said: “We have already taken action to improve, including increasing support and training for our staff, redoubling our efforts to recruit more nurses and doctors and bringing services closer to people’s homes through our community transformation projects.

Stuart Richardson, NSFT chief executive

NSFT chief executive Stuart Richardson said he hopes to "drive sustainable improvements and build strong foundations for the future" - Credit: Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

“However, we recognise there is more to do and are continuing to work closely with our patients, service users, staff and partners to drive sustainable improvements and build strong foundations for the future.

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"We are focusing on five key areas – safety, timely access, engaging with staff, governance and leadership and changing services to meet people’s needs – so that we can make sure everyone in Norfolk and Suffolk receives the mental health services they deserve.

“We would like to remind anyone who is experiencing a mental health crisis that our dedicated staff are here to help, and would urge anyone who needs immediate support to contact our 24-hour helpline by calling 111 and choosing option 2.”

The latest CQC inspection was carried out in 2021 and highlighted a catalogue of failings.

These included waiting lists not being managed and management not ensuring lessons were learned from patient incidents and deaths.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said: "The depth of the failings at the trust over such a significant period of time says to me there are problems that go far deeper than individuals. 

"There is a culture of failure and enough is enough.

"The stakes couldn't be higher. There will be individuals who have lost their lives because of all this.

"It is one of the worst-performing mental health trusts in the country. It is lazy thinking to say it is because the government haven't put enough money in at a national level. If that was the case, then you wouldn't have so many different experiences at a local level.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said there is a "culture of failure" at the trust - Credit: House of Commons

"There are a large number of individuals at NSFT who are incredibly professional and dedicated who work hard to support vulnerable people.

"This isn't about smearing everyone at the organisation.

"But we need as clean a slate as possible with new individuals involved at a senior level who have a lot of experience running effective mental health services - not more of the same."

NSFT's Mr Richardson responded: “We have recently strengthened our board with the appointments of a new chair, deputy chief executive and chief people officer, chief operating officer and director of strategy and partnerships. They have brought with them considerable knowledge and experience which is complementing the skills of our existing board members.

“This leadership team has clear and ambitious plans to improve the services we provide and is determined to make the required changes with pace and focus.”

Suffolk Mind chief executive, Jon Neal, said: "It is important we look forward and don't make things worse by being overly critical.

Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind

Jon Neal, chief executive of Suffolk Mind, said it is important "people are not overly critical" - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

"There are people out there doing the best they can. 

"There are changes that can be made but it is so important for everyone to remain calm and think clearly. If they're constantly being criticised by commentators, then that doesn't help them. It will only distract them from trying to improve services.

"Nobody at NSFT is happy with how things are.

"I understand and share the public's frustration with services across the country and we just want to encourage those in a position to make changes to make the right ones."

If you need urgent mental health support call NHS 111 and select option 2 or the Samaritans on 116 123. Both services are available 24 hours 7 days a week.