Blackpool's Harbour mental health unit back under scrutiny

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A nurse recruitment crisis combined with a surge in the number of people needing help continues to put massive strain on mental health services in Blackpool, councillors have been told.

A meeting of the resort's health committee also heard concerns remain about illegal substances being taken onto wards, and violence against staff.

Coun Jim Hobson

Coun Jim Hobson

But it is hoped measures including investment in staff training and recruitment of nurses through a new apprenticeship scheme will help ease the pressure at the Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust (LCFT) which runs The Harbour mental health facility in Blackpool.

Bosses from the trust were called to a meeting of Blackpool Council's adult social care and health scrutiny committee to update members on improvements being made following last year's critical report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Last October the committee heard services were 'in chaos' and an improvement plan drawn up by the Trust was described as not going far enough.

Paul Lumsdon, director of nursing and quality at LCFT, said while nursing management roles had successfully been filled at The Harbour, out of a possible 140 staff nurses there were currently 46 vacancies.

This was reflective of a national shortage in mental health nurses, he told the meeting.

People were being turned off the career due to the burden of student debt, but an apprenticeship scheme had now attracted nearly 100 new members of staff and the trust hopes to launch its own nursing degree in September that would allow people to train in hospital and be paid.

At the same time, demand for services has grown, with figures presented in a report to the committee showing a 25 per cent increase since last April in the number of patients arriving at Blackpool Victoria Hospital with mental health problems.

However LCFT has secured an £8m government grant to create a specialist mental health hub at Blackpool Victoria Hospital which it is hoped will help diagnose patients' needs more quickly.

Blackpool Council's director of adult social services Karen Smith said she welcomed the longer term plans for the services, but remained concerned about what is happening now.

She said: "There is no doubt in my mind the actions are correct to bring about improvement, but I remain concerned about the realities of today.

"Daily, I receive reports from our staff, from services users and from families with concerns about the level of chaos and the number of incidents.

"People are bringing substances onto the wards which are not allowed, and there are assaults."

Mr Lumsdon said keeping people safe was a priority for the trust.

He said: "Quite a few of the patients do present as difficult at times. Whenever this occurs, staff know they can get extra staff in and get staffing levels up.

"We have a focus on staff telling us about issues.

"There is an issue with people having problems, not just with their mental health but with their drug taking. It's quite an issue in Blackpool."

Blackpool's director of public health Dr Arif Rajpura said more work still needed to be done in the community to prevent people reaching crisis point.

He said: "The struggle to access routine support is leading to some of the pressures in the acute area.

"What are we doing to support people in the community at a time when they are at their most vulnerable?"

Calls were made for the trust to work more closely with local voluntary groups such as Star Blackpool Mental Health Support Group, which was also represented at the meeting.

Committee chairman Coun Jim Hobson said he welcomed the progress being made but said the committee still had concerns around the number of patients going to A&E and the number of incidents on the wards at The Harbour.

He called on the trust to work more closely with the voluntary sector, and asked its representatives to report back to a further meeting of the committee in six months time.

The CQC report, published in May 2018 following an inspection in January and February, gave the trust a “requires improvement” rating and found eight breaches of legal requirement across three core services - plus another at “provider level”.

It also listed 22 areas the trust must improve to address its concerns.

Last October the council's health scrutiny committee grilled the trust’s clinical director, Dr Leon Le Roux, about a series of failings, including the way The Harbour mental health unit on Preston New Road, has been run.

That meeting heard patients were turning to A&E for help because there were no beds available at The Harbour, which provides specialist services for people across Lancashire.

Staff morale was described as low, there was a recruitment crisis and money from shutting wards had not been re-invested in community mental health services, that meeting was told.