A regional mental health trust has admitted the removal of more than 300 young people from its waiting list was a deliberate decision and not due to “human error.”
The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) sent out the letter in May informing people their appointments had been cancelled and that their referrals had been closed because of coronavirus.
“Our service is not able to support everybody in the way that it used to,” the letter read. The service, already nicknamed the worst-performing mental health trust in the country, offered recipients a phone line to call in order to get advice instead.
The NSFT admitted shortly afterwards that it should never have sent out the letter.
In September the trust was taken to task by the county council’s health scrutiny committee, a body of elected councillors entrusted with holding mental health services to account.
Brenda Jones, a Labour Party councillor, asked: “On the accidental discharge of young people – surely the mistake wasn’t just a clerical error but came from senior leadership?”
Speaking on behalf of the trust, Dr Sarah Maxwell, clinical director of children and young people’s services, replied: “It wasn’t a straightforward clerical error. It was part of a decision based on what we were having to plan for in terms of the pandemic.
“At the outset of the pandemic, we knew we had a lot of young people on our services. We were expecting to lose 50% of our staff due to being unwell or being redeployed. We were acutely aware we were going to have a lot of young people with nothing offered to them.”
Criticisms were also raised that the incident was connected to an inspection of the trust’s centre for young people at 80 St Stephens Road, Norwich. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) slammed the facility and the trust, citing “confusing” and “ineffective” waiting lists.
“Staff admitted they had significant concerns that they could not manage caseloads safely and that patients were not always being seen according to their need or risk,” inspectors said.
Some recipients of the letter accused the NSFT of using coronavirus as an excuse to cut down on waiting lists following a devastating review. The NSFT denied this claim.
Dr Dan Dalton, chief medical officer, said: “This clearly was something where we got it wrong. I’m absolutely confident it was done for the right reasons.”