Norfolk and Suffolk NHS trust told 'no mental health beds available'

Exterior view of Hellesdon Hospital, where the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust is based Image copyright Andy Parrett/Geograph
Image caption The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust is using an "extended overnight leave" system to try to deal with the lack of access to beds

An NHS trust was told there were no mental health beds available across England, its medical director has said.

Dr Bohdan Solomka told the BBC on Sunday the lack of beds applied across the NHS and among private providers.

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust medical director's revelation prompted Norwich MP Clive Lewis to call for delays in planned bed closures.

NHS England said it was up to local NHS commissioners to ensure patients got the care they needed.

Dr Solomka confirmed that up to Sunday night "there were no adult acute inpatient beds in England available to us either from NHS or private providers".

'National disgrace'

In response Mr Lewis, Norwich South MP, called for a suspension of planned bed closures in Norfolk and Suffolk until community services were able to cope with current levels of demand.

He has also asked for an urgent review into the support given to the trust from NHS England and the area's clinical commissioning groups which fund the beds.

"It's a national disgrace that there are no mental health beds for those who need them," Mr Lewis said.

"It is simply unimaginable that in the event of a heart attack someone would be left with no A&E bed available anywhere in the country. Why is this accepted for those with a mental rather than physical health crisis?"

Image caption Clive Lewis MP has called for an urgent review of the support provided for the trust by NHS England and local commissioning groups

The trust said it was dealing with the shortage by using a process called "extended overnight leave" a system where patients are discharged for the evening on the understanding their bed would be available if needed.

The BBC revealed last year that more than 2,100 mental health beds across England had been lost between April 2011 and 2014.

However, Dr Solomka said calling for more beds to be made available was just one response.

"On the other hand we need a more multi-tool response, it's about freeing up community beds and housing so we're looking at the whole system," he said.

"We want what's best for our patients so it's concerning in that sense. We have confidence in our staff that are making the decisions. It's about getting all stakeholders together and making sure [a lack of beds] happens as infrequently as possible."

'Bed crisis worsening'

But Terry Skyrme, of the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk, said the shortage was down to underinvestment.

"The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust is still closing beds, such as at Carlton Court near Lowestoft, despite NSFT always having patients out of area and after being told by the CQC and Monitor that there must be sufficient local beds for local needs.

"We are being told by mental health professionals that the bed crisis is worsening and spreading nationwide. For how long can commissioners and NHS England cover their eyes and pretend there is no crisis in mental health provision?"

NHS England said people with mental health needs deserved the same level of care as those with physical health needs.

"Local NHS commissioners, providers and the local authority need to continue to work together to ensure all patients needing help for their mental health get the care and support they need," a spokesman said.

The lead commissioners for mental health in Norfolk, South Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, were unavailable for comment.

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