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Norfolk mental health trust sorry after 'alarming' rise in paperwork errors revealed

Paperwork errors at Norfolk’s mental health trust have risen by more than a third in the past year, it has emerged.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) has seen mistakes in sectioning – involuntary hospitalisation – paperwork increase by 36 per cent in the past twelve months.

Errors in the trust’s completion of Mental Health Act paperwork rose from 30 in 2018-19 to 41 in 2019-20, which campaigners have branded “profoundly concerning”.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust runs the Samphire ward in Lynn.
The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust runs the Samphire ward in Lynn.

It comes as the trust, dubbed England’s worst, was criticised for a “shocking” lack of beds as data revealed a fresh rise in patients being sent out of the area for treatment.

The trust said it was “committed to protecting the rights of all of the people who use our services” and undertook “detailed scrutiny of all legal forms and paperwork”.

Among the errors, recorded in board papers published ahead of the trust’s May directors’ meeting, was the unintentional expiration of a Section 37 order – a court-ordered mental health patient admission to a secure ward.

A mental health campaign spokesperson branded the incident “alarming” and an “unforgivable mistake”.

They said: “Courts do not make hospital orders lightly and the individuals concerned are often a danger to both themselves and others.”

And an NSFT spokesman said the trust was “truly sorry” but that there was no harm or disruption of care to the patient, and no risk of harm to the public.

He said: “We make sure legal detention is reviewed regularly by responsible clinicians, in line with the requirements set out in the Mental Health Act.

“We know that we made a mistake on one occasion and allowed a review to happen too late, meaning that their rights were not upheld in the manner to which they were entitled.

“We are truly sorry that this occurred but we are confident that no harm befell this person as a result and that we were able to identify and rectify the error without any disruption to this person’s care, or risk of harm to the person or the public.”

Errors recorded in 2018-19 included unlawful applications of sectioning, the wrong forms being used, and forms being submitted without the patient’s name.

Other errors included hospitals not being identified, medical recommendations being unsigned and consent certificates not being completed.

While in 2019-20, mistakes included original forms being lost, dates missing on forms, and a patient being admitted to the wrong hospital.

In one incident, a patient’s wrong nearest relative was identified, which was challenged by the patient’s solicitor.

A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: “Mental health paperwork isn’t simply optional form-filling, it is the statutory process for compulsory medical treatment and the deprivation of individual liberty.

“We find the 36 per cent increase in errors is of profound concern.”

They added: “The dramatically-increasing number of errors reflects the strain that mental health services are under, after years of mismanagement and inadequate funding.

“The tripling in the number of times that the receiving hospital is named incorrectly on the section papers is a damning reflection of the lack of available local beds and the forced transportation of people in mental health crisis to other parts of the country.”

Dr Dan Dalton, NSFT chief medical officer, said: “We are absolutely committed to protecting the rights of all of the people who use our services.

“We undertake detailed scrutiny of all of the legal forms and paperwork that we receive when people are admitted to our hospitals. These forms are completed before people come into our services, by people who are not working for NSFT.

“We are proud that we have been able to detect and correct errors in the papers we receive, as they are an important safeguard to ensure people are treated fairly and safely.”

And he added that the trust could not scrutinise paperwork when patients were admitted to other hospitals, meaning that it did not see the paperwork for patients receiving treatment from mental health trusts elsewhere in the country.

NSFT remained in special measures after its most recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection, which saw the watchdog move it from a rating of inadequate to one of requires improvement.

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