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Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust showing ‘strong foundations’ following report on unaccounted mental health deaths, councillors say

An NHS mental health trust is showing ‘strong foundations’ following a report on unaccounted mental health deaths, councillors have said.

Yesterday, the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) presented an update to the county council’s overview and scrutiny committee on its work to better monitor deaths since the issue was last discussed in January.

This followed the Grant Thornton report, published in June of last year, which found problems in the way the trust monitored and recorded the deaths of inpatients and those in the community.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust presented an update yesterday on its work to better monitor deaths. Picture: iStock
The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust presented an update yesterday on its work to better monitor deaths. Picture: iStock

During yesterday’s meeting, several councillors welcomed the update and said they felt more reassured with the trust’s work, with new roles having been created to strengthen the process.

Cllr Christine Saw said: “I’m really reassured that a lot of work is going on — I’m starting to see strong foundations.”

Lisa Nobes, the chief nurse at NHS Suffolk and North Essex, echoed the sentiment, adding the trust had done considerable, and transparent, work since the report.

She said: “We are really assured with the new process that has been put in place — the next part we are really invested in is the process of learning from deaths.”

In June, the report revealed out of 11,379 deaths of people in contact with the trust over five years, the number which could have been deemed avoidable was unclear.

At the time the trust came under fire from bereaved families and campaigners despite maintaining most deaths did not relate to poor care, but included natural causes.

Yesterday’s update outlined how the trust implemented its new, largely automated, system to replace the old manual process, with the first set of data now being released.

The new system has been used since November and uses multiple data sources which are kept in a single place and updated daily for both better accuracy and management.

Since it was implemented, the system has recorded 437 deaths between November 1 and March 31, the vast majority of which have been related to natural causes, with 15, or three per cent, being unnatural and unexpected.

Gary O’Hare, NSFT’s governance and safety advisor, assured councillors that the trust took every death seriously and promised visible change within 12 months.

He said: “There are a lot of numbers in this report, but each number represents an individual who has died and their families, it’s not a cold report with just numbers.

“Actions speak far louder than words, people need to see a change in how services are provided but that’s going to take time.”

Mr O’Hare has also addressed concerns the trust was not opening itself to external, independent, scrutiny of its work, a specific recommendation of the Grant Thorton report, instead opting for internal auditing.

He said the trust was not marking its own homework, but rather considering using independent clinicians to assess the work instead of a finance-focused auditor, while still completing its internal auditing schedule.

Despite the updates in the report, Andy Yacoub, Healthwatch Suffolk CEO, said the watchdog would remain withdrawn from the trust’s action plan management group.

During the January meeting, Mr Yacoub said: “The way that this process has been carried out to date has often destroyed trust, created reputational and significant financial costs and hurt all who are involved.

“There is a vital need for independence and transparency.”