Spotlight put on mental health services in follow-up to our patient experience report

New evidence reveals nurse recruitment drive and concerns about community mental health team.

Mental health services in Reading are affected by ‘staff shortages’ and ‘fragmentation’, according to latest evidence heard in response to a Healthwatch patient feedback report.

At Prospect Park Hospital there are 53 unfilled posts of qualified staff, according to Berkshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHFT), which runs the psychiatric hospital, although it stressed these were ‘not at unsafe levels’. BHFT’s chief executive Julian Emms and its chief operating officer David Townsend were asked to give evidence to Reading Borough Council’s ‘scrutiny committee’ on 14 February 2019, to check progress made since a joint report by Healthwatch Reading and others had been published in January 2018. This found people thought staff were kind but that there were not enough nurses and doctors to give them the time they needed.

In its evidence to the RBC committee, BHFT added that the trust had launched a major recruitment drive using radio, bus and social media advertising, and had paid bursaries to 15 people to cover the costs of training to become nurses. Overall, 400 of the trust’s staff were from the EU, 150 of whom were from Ireland.

In a letter dated 5 February 2019 sent to the committee before the meeting, BHFT added that ‘an area of deterioration since the Healthwatch report was prepared, relates to Reading Borough Council’s decision to remove social care staff from the community mental health team’. The Healthwatch report had pointed to national guidelines calling for people to be supported by a ‘single multi-disciplinary community mental health team’ and BHFT was ‘particularly concerned that this disaggregation [of social care staff] will lead to a more fragmented service for residents who require mental health services’. The council committee did not question BHFT about these comments during the 14 February meeting.

The council’s Adult Social Care, Children’s Services and Education Committee carries out the scrutiny function.

BHFT’s latest response addresses a range of other recommendations that Healthwatch Reading and five other local Healthwatch across Berkshire made in our orginal report:

  • providing a greater range of activities for inpatients at the weekend: BHFT says it is now recruiting activity coordinators through its volunteer service, focusing on psychology students from the University of Reading
  • giving patients earlier information about when they can expect to go home: BHFT says it now has a standard to ensure all patients are reviewed 72 hours after first arriving on a ward to discuss their ‘intended discharge date’, and it is working with outside organisations to ensure there are no delays in agreeing funding for care in the community, however ‘accessing housing and step down accommodation is challenging’
  • addressing ‘revolving door’ concerns about patients being readmitted to hospital: BHFT says it is reviewing patients repeatedly readmitted to hospital and developing a pathway for people with a personality disorder, but preventing readmission also requires other agencies to give people more help with substance misuse, benefits and welfare rights, and non-statutory forms of community support.

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