The region’s mental health and learning disability care trust has been served a warning notice after being rated “inadequate”.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has warned Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust it will take further enforcement action if the next inspection reveals improvements haven’t been made to “protect people from the risk of unavoidable harm”.

Stuart Richardson, trust chief executive, said he was “deeply sorry” progress had not been made since its previous inspection where it was rated as “requires improvement” overall.

Inspectors said in a report published yesterday (Thursday), bosses had a lack of oversight in several core services which resulted in poor management of patients’ medicines and records, long waiting lists and a lack of action to mitigate ligature points.

The report said “safe patient care was not being ensured” across long stay or rehabilitation mental health wards, specialist community mental health services for children and young people, mental health crisis services and, mental health wards for older people.

But the CQC did rate the trust “good” for being caring. 

The trust has been rated “inadequate” three times in recent years.

Craig Howarth, CQC head of inspection for mental health and community services, said a “significant factor” behind the trust’s shortcomings was its lack of enough staff to meet patient need.

“The trust needs to ensure its leaders have effective processes to consistently monitor teams, ensure compliance with training targets, understand issues affecting patient care and do more to support staff on the frontline.”

However, Mr Howarth said staff were more engaged compared to the previous inspection, and found patient care on its wards for those with a learning disability or autism had improved and there was better use of de-escalation techniques. 

“However, we are concerned restraint was used too frequently and incorrectly on child and adolescent mental health wards, which were providing significantly worse patient care compared to our previous inspection,” he said.

Since the inspection, carried out during November and December, the CQC said it has engaged regularly with the trust’s bosses through monitoring.

Mr Richardson said the patients deserve good quality mental health services and the trust was committed to achieving this. 

“People have worked tirelessly to keep services open during the pandemic and I want to thank all my colleagues for their hard work. We recognise that we have not made the expected progress in some key areas, and I am deeply sorry for this and the impact this will have had on people who need support with their mental health.  

“We have already taken action that will help us improve, including increasing support and training for our staff, redoubling our efforts to recruit more nurses and doctors, and bringing services closer to people’s homes through our community transformation projects,” he said.

Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk, said: “The staff there are working incredibly hard caring for and treating patients, and we understand this will be upsetting for those working at the sharp end of patient care. 

“Equally, the needs of patients are paramount, and we are aware from feedback we have received that there are concerns about some elements of the way people are being looked after.     

“It is encouraging that senior figures in the trust are acknowledging publicly there is work to do, and, moving forwards, Healthwatch Norfolk will be working constructively with the trust and patients to help with this.”