Campaigners show names of the dead in push for Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust inquiry

Mental health campaigners have hung the names of dead loved ones outside a hospital as they stepped up calls for an independent inquiry into the country's worst mental health trust.

Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) downgraded services provided by the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) from 'requires improvement' to 'inadequate' on Thursday.

The trust has also been served with a warning notice meaning it must ensure patient safety within a legally-binding timetable.

The CQC’s report said there were 115 “unexpected or potentially avoidable deaths” reported between 1 September 2019 and 30 September 2021.

In the two years before the pandemic, on average 49 people per month died within six months of contact with the trust.

Mark Harrison from the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said it was "the end of the road" for the organisation.

"They have to disband this trust. It's institutionally dysfunctional, the governance is all wrong and the senior management aren't up for the job," he said.

Bosses at NSFT said they were "desperately sorry" following the damning CQC report.

Zoe Billingham, the new chair of NSFT, has promised to drive a new culture - one of transformation and transparency.

She said: "There is that sense that we've been putting a gloss and spin on things, that we've not been up front and honest. The one promise I make is that we are going to be absolutely open and transparent.

"I'm so desperately sorry for the failings and the way that we've let you and your families down in the past. The second thing I'll say is not just that we're listening - we're acting."

For almost a decade the trust has been failing and it was the first in the country to be put in special measures in 2015.

The trust has had a procession of chief executives who have pledged that services would get better.

But the latest Care Quality Commission report shows just the opposite.

The report highlighted that staffing levels were often unsafe, waiting lists were long and not managed properly, and patient records were inaccurate.

Stuart Richardson, chief executive of NSFT, acknowledged change needed to happen and said the trust was determined to improve.

"We're really disappointed with the CQC report but we absolutely accept the findings from the report," he said.

"It's identified a number of key areas where we need to make significant progress and we need to do that now at pace.

"We know the people of Norfolk and Suffolk deserve better and we want to provide better.

"We need to improve the quality and safety of the services we provide. I apologise to people who haven't experienced the quality of care they are entitled to."

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust rated 'inadequate' for the fourth time Credit: ITV News Anglia

The report did praise caring frontline staff and noted some "green shoots" of change - but campaigners remain sceptical.

They want an independent inquiry into unexpected deaths at the trust, and how they have been allowed to remain in special measures for so long while continuing to fail.

'Hundreds of people are dying'

Sheila Preston, 77, was a governor at the trust for nine years. Her son Leo had schizophrenia and died in 2016 from a suspected overdose after the community team supporting him was cut.

After nine years of service she had become highly critical and frustrated by the culture at the trust.

She said: "The trust's services have become a crisis service - and even that, a poor one.

"They have one little thing they always say: 'we're on a journey. It's not going to be done quickly. This is a marathon not a sprint.'

"Unfortunately hundreds of people are dying before they reach the end of a journey and I just think it's really not good enough."

  • Norwich South's MP Clive Lewis said "cuts and successive failures in leadership have led to deaths".

Speaking in the House of Commons, Labour's Norwich South MP Clive Lewis said: "Enough is enough and the Secretary State for Health must take control of this failing service, provide emergency funding and rebuild it from the bottom up with patients and hardworking and dedicated staff who work in that service."

Meanwhile, Dr Dan Poulter, the Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: "The trust is effectively on a warning at the moment. If matters don't improve, the government through NHS Improvement will step in to take a more proactive role."