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Family’s anger as mental health trust misses target

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The region’s mental health trust has failed to meet its own target for patients being sent hundreds of miles for help.

In 2014, bosses at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) vowed to stop sending patients out of the area within four months, a target which was later moved to October 2017, then March 2018.

Now, after more delays, the chief executive of the trust said soaring demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic had meant they have failed to meet their latest deadline this month.

Maxine and Nick Fulcher hold a photo of Peggy Copeman, who died while being transported back to Norfolk from Taunton. Picture: Mark Bullimore
Maxine and Nick Fulcher hold a photo of Peggy Copeman, who died while being transported back to Norfolk from Taunton. Picture: Mark Bullimore

A report to the NSFT board of directors ahead of a meeting on September 23 said the deadline has been pushed back another seven months, to April 2022.

Its most recent figures show there were 235 out-of-area placement days in July 2021, down from a high of 1,974 in April 2019.

In response, North Lopham resident Nick Fulcher, whose 81-year-old mother-in-law Peggy Copeman died in 2019 during a 200-mile journey to find her a suitable bed, claimed that the trust was no longer fit for purpose.

“They are not keeping to promises at all,” said the 56-year-old (pictured).

“Walking the walk and talking the talk are two different things: south Norfolk is an area where people need help.

“So many people, young and old, are dying, and what has Diss got to offer? If people need support, they have got to go all the way to Norwich or Bury St Edmunds.”

“A ridiculous amount of money has been wasted on out-of-placement beds. I would propose they find more beds in Norfolk and Suffolk and stop this happening.”

Mrs Copeman, of New Buckenham, died on the hard shoulder of the M11 on December 16, 2019.

She become unresponsive while being transported on her second 200-mile journey in less than a week, from Taunton in Somerset and back to Norfolk.

Amongst those supporting Mrs Copeman’s family following her death was Norfolk county councillor and mental health campaigner Emma Corlett, who said: “We have been waiting for eight and a half years for this to be addressed.

“But NSFT can’t magic beds out of the air and they don’t have the staff to stop people reaching crisis point in the first place.

“There needs to be massive investment from central government but the trust also needs to be run by people who will know what to do with that money.”

Responding to the delay, NSFT chief executive Stuart Richardson said: “We want to be able to treat everyone needing a hospital stay as close to home as possible.

“Sadly, the current demand for mental health support means we will not meet the ambition to reduce the number of people we send out of area for hospital care to zero in September. As a system, we will work towards March 2022.”

Mr Richardson said the pandemic has had a significant impact on mental health and staff are treating more patients than ever before.

The health chief said they were working with social care and voluntary sector colleagues to improve services over the next three years, increase support to prevent a crisis and care for people at home as much as possible.

Mr Fulcher, who lives in The Street, said he would not be holding his breath that the trust would turn things around by next spring, and rejected Mr Richardson’s assertion that the pandemic was to blame for the failings.

“Nothing is going to change,” said the father-of-two.

“In March, we will be in the same position. And to blame it on the pandemic? Was there a pandemic when they sent my dear mother-in-law away?

“Don’t just keep saying you can manage, when it’s been proven you can’t.”

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