A lack of staff, beds and cash have left mental health services in Lancashire “in chaos”.
That was the view of councillors who grilled a senior doctor over a catalogue of complaints about support for patients in the county.
Members of Blackpool Council’s health scrutiny committee criticised an improvement drawn up by Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust on the back of a damning inspection report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) – and said it did not go far enough.
The report, published in May, gave the trust a “requires improvement” rating and found nine breaches of legal requirements. It listed 22 areas the trust must improve.
Committee members 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, Blackpool, has been run.
The meeting heard patients with mental health issues 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 “low”, there was a recruitment crisis and money from shutting wards had not been re-invested in community mental health services, the meeting was told.
Dr Le Roux said the service was “under-resourced” and it was difficult to attract staff to work in Lancashire.
At the end of 2017, four consultant doctors had left the trust in three months and Dr Le Roux said: “We were simply unable to fulfil our legal obligation to detain patients.”
He said the decision to put 262 beds into The Harbour based on population figures from 2006/7 had not worked due to people needing to stay longer than expected.
Around £16m that became available due to the closure of other mental health wards had not been reinvested into community services as it should have been, the meeting heard.
Dr Le Roux said: “The model is skewed because investment in the community has not happened.”
He added it had been difficult to recruit staff because people preferred to take jobs in cities such as Manchester.
Blackpool Council’s director of public health Dr Arif Rajpura said Lancashire Care was letting patients down. He said: “Our GPs are deeply unhappy with the access their patients are getting from Lancashire Care.
“And if they don’t get the support in the community, patients are going to end up in crisis in the hospital.”
Coun David O’Hara told the meeting: “The Harbour seems to be in chaos and these are problems we have been having for the last three or four years.
“It has got to the point where something must be done urgently.”
Coun Amy Cross said: “They are discharging patients without even telling them they are being discharged. How does that make someone feel when they are suicidal?”
Paul Bronson, chief operating officer at Blackpool CCG, said it had commissioned 15 beds from The Priory, a 38-bed independent mental health hospital in Preston, to help ease the crisis.
Dr Le Roux also revealed the plans to bring Blackpool’s old Parkwood ward back into use, which was shut after being replaced by The Harbour in 2015. It had previously been described as “not fit for purpose”.
Mental health campaigner Stuart Clayton warned the meeting: “There are a lot of vulnerable people out there who are on the verge of giving up and thinking things are never going to improve.”
A Lancashire Care spokesman said a “new model” had been successfully introduced in response to staffing concerns at the end of 2017.
“The Trust has continued to experience high demand for its mental health services,” the spokesman added. “This is causing a number of challenges and some of these were highlighted in the last CQC inspection of the trust.
“An improvement plan has been developed to address some of the fundamental issues in the delivery of mental health services and part of this involves looking at how we can increase capacity within services to respond to current demand.
“We recognise the committees’ concerns about the CQC inspection of the Trust and offer our assurance that there is a full comprehensive action plan that is being delivered to make the required improvements.
"This has yet to be shared with the committee and a meeting is being convened for us to have a full and detailed discussion about the progress we have made since the inspection took place.”