UPDATE: Mental health trust ‘can’t rule out’ moving beds out of King’s Lynn unit

Police release details of incident at the Fermoy Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Tuesday. ENGANL00120130625154550
Police release details of incident at the Fermoy Unit of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Tuesday. ENGANL00120130625154550

Mental health chiefs have this evening rejected suggestions that a Lynn unit is at risk of closure.

However, officials from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) have admitted they cannot rule out moving beds out of the Fermoy unit, because of potential risks to patients.

The comment was made at the end of a day in which the trust announced plans to hold an independent inquiry into the soaring number of unexpected deaths of patients in its care.

Earlier, campaigners claimed NSFT bosses had refused to rule out closing the unit altogether during a board meeting in Norwich.

The claim was made in Twitter comments posted by the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk during the meeting.

One, referring to trust chief executive Michael Scott, said: “Michael Scott refuses to rule out closure of Fermoy Unit in King’s Lynn! But what about the people who need their beds?”

However, Debbie White, the trust’s director of operations for Norfolk and Waveney, said a short time ago: “This is not about closing beds - our trust has no intention of reducing the number of beds we provide.

“At present we have no plans to close the Fermoy Unit in King’s Lynn, but nor can we rule out moving the beds elsewhere.

“Due to the age of the unit, there are ongoing issues in relation to it having potential risks for patients.

“This is about ensuring we are providing services in safe conditions; that has to be our primary concern; either at the Fermoy or elsewhere.

“We are also finding it challenging to recruit staff in west Norfolk to be able to maintain safe staffing levels in the unit, and we will be discussing this with the CCGs along with what we need to do to provide safer environments for our patients

“In the meantime, we continue to manage any risks to safety that Churchill Ward at Fermoy presents to keep our patients as safe as possible. But changes are needed and will have to take place.”

Earlier, the trust revealed it will commission an independent investigation into an apparently growing trend of unexpected deaths of patients in its care.

The announcement was given a cautious welcome by Jon Higgins, from South Wootton, whose son, Christopher, died while in the care of the Fermoy unit in 2013.

He and his wife, Ann, have launched a campaign for all unexpected deaths in mental health care to be independently investigated and have secured the support of MP Sir Henry Bellingham.

Mr Higgins said it was a step in the right direction, but warned that there needed to be complete transparency in the investigation so that relatives did not feel questions had been left unanswered.

He said: “It should be totally independent. Unless it’s open and transparent, people are always going to wonder and not fully accept any report that comes out.

“It’s better than the trust investigating itself.”

Figures published by the Campaign group suggested the figure had soared from 53 in 2012-13 to 139 in 2014-15, a trend it describes as a “scandal.”

But the trust has claimed the data did not give a complete picture.

Mr Scott said: “Commissioning an investigation by an independent organisation shows how committed our board is into seeking clarity about what has caused this rise.

“It will also reassure those who find the figures alarming that our Trust, as a high reporter of serious incidents, is also one that can provide evidence of low harm to our patients.”

He added: “Our trust already investigates every single death as soon as possible, and before the cause has been established, to assure ourselves that the death was not due to service or care issues and any lessons learned.”