Former Waveney MP, Bob Blizzard speaking at a rally to sending a message to the government and the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust to think again on proposals for cuts to local mental health care services. Picture: James Bass
Mental health bosses have warned that Norfolk and Suffolk does not have the capacity to cope with a looming increase in dementia cases after beds and staffing numbers were cut by almost a third.
Changing dementia care in Norfolk and Suffolk
There are five Dementia Intensive Support Teams (DIST) across Norfolk and Suffolk, which aim to support people living with dementia in the community and ensure that they receive the help they need to remain at home wherever possible.
The first was set up in the Norwich area four years ago with the others being established over the last year as part of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust’s radical redesign of mental health services.
The west Norfolk team, which was established last August, consists of 12 mental health practitioners, an occupational therapist and two psychiatrists, all based at Chatterton House in King’s Lynn.
Around 85pc of the patients the team sees have dementia, while the remaining 15pc suffer from mental illness, such as depression. To meet demand, the service is open seven days a week from 8am to 8pm.
Andrew Lillywhite, team leader of the west Norfolk team, said moving people with dementia out of their homes to unfamiliar surroundings was not always in their best interests.
“We aim, wherever possible, to help people to stay at home because we know how important being in a familiar environment is for their wellbeing. We want to avoid unnecessary admissions to hospital, however, everything depends on the quality of life at home and we have to take into consideration individual circumstances.”
“Once we’ve received a referral from a GP or hospital, we like to visit the patient as soon as possible. We always check the patient’s physical health, as we know that it’s important to eliminate any physical problems first. Following a full assessment, we can offer advice with medication and care and we also act as a signposting service, explaining to carers how they can access further support and help.”
“The establishment of DIST has enabled us to see far more patients than we could before. For us, it’s all about enabling people to reach their full potential while suffering from a limiting illness. Team members can see the bigger picture when they meet the patient with other family members,” he said.
Campaigners have called on Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) to rethink its proposals to close some inpatient wards with warnings that thousands more people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia over the next 15 years.
Figures revealed under a freedom of information (FoI) request show that the number of dementia beds across the two counties has been reduced from 140 to 96 over the last two years. Officials from the mental health trust said bed numbers had been cut through a service redesign and the creation of new Dementia Intensive Support Teams (DIST) to treat more patients at home.
However, the FoI response revealed that the number of staff working in older people’s services at NSFT has been cut from 528 to 357 over the last year. The number of people with dementia is set to grow from 13,000 to more than 20,000 by 2025. Fourteen “alternative to admission” beds have been set up in Norfolk and Waveney where patients can be taken to a nursing home, rather than being admitted to hospital.
However, when asked if the trust had enough capacity for increased numbers of people living with dementia, Kathy Chapman, director of operations for Norfolk and Waveney, said: “No – additional resource will be required due to very significant future demand.”
She said the trust had to make 20pc savings, which had resulted in fewer staff. However, the trust had the right balance of inpatient beds because not all of them were fully occupied, she added.
She said: “Hospital acute assessment beds for people with dementia remain. Alternatives to admission will always be sought to ensure that people are admitted to hospital only when necessary. Our trust has completed the implementation of DIST across Norfolk and feedback we have received has been positive.”
The changes have resulted in NSFT having no inpatient beds in west Norfolk for people with dementia, with the nearest facilities in Norwich.
Norman Lamb, health minister and North Norfolk MP, said: “It is the right general approach to move away from inpatient beds to provide better support for people at home. The direction they are taking is the right one, but in terms of capacity of services and staff numbers, it has to be sufficient for growing demand. On the face of it, the commissioners in Norfolk and mental health trust need to work together to ensure they are looking towards the future and ensure they have an absolute grip on rising demand.”
Bob Blizzard, prospective parliamentary candidate for Waveney, who has been campaigning against bed cuts at Carlton Court, near Lowestoft, said: “Closing dementia beds at a time when all the demographics point to an increase in demand makes no sense at all. This is a shameful way to treat older people with dementia.”