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Ward reopens following successful recruitment campaign

​A ward that Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) closed temporarily on safety grounds due to a shortage of staff is to reopen following a successful recruitment drive.

Lark Ward, a mixed sex Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for adults located at the Trust’s Woodlands unit on the site of Ipswich Hospital, will re-open on Monday (24 Sept).

In October last year, NSFT temporarily reduced the number of beds there from 10 to seven due to reduced staffing levels and on 6 April this year, in agreement with local commissioners, the Trust temporarily closed the remaining seven beds because of continued low staffing numbers.

In April, Peter Devlin, NSFT’s Operations Director for Suffolk, had said it would be a matter of months rather than weeks before the ward reopened because it needed a higher staff-to-patient ratio to ensure more intensive treatment could be provided for the most acutely unwell patients.

Speaking this week, he said: “We have so far recruited 27 staff to work on the ward with more to start in the coming weeks, as well as four agency staff who are on long-term contracts.

“We’ve been delighted with the response to our recruitment campaign, both in terms of the quality and the quantity of the applicants, at a time when there’s a national shortage of mental health nurses.

“The recruitment of high-quality health professionals is essential to driving up the quality of care that we provide for service users.

"Five of the 10 beds will reopen on Monday (24 Sept) and our plan is to reopen the remaining five beds over the coming months.”

John Bingham, an experienced nurse and adult acute ward manager for the Trust, is now leading the Lark Ward team.

“We’re delighted to have recruited staff into the new team, and will now focus on reopening the unit in a safe and phased way,” he said. “This will give our new team the chance to develop as the number of patients increases.

“Our focus will be on providing a high-quality service in Suffolk with the right care and treatment to support our most mentally unwell patients.

“We will be working closely with our buddy trust, East London NHS Foundation Trust, to share best practice and have plans to increase therapies and activities on the ward.

“The reopening marks a new chapter for the unit and we are looking forward to delivering high-quality, effective care which meets the needs of our service users and plays a vital role in their recovery journey."

Joe Phillips, an assistant psychologist on Lark Ward who joined NSFT last month, said: “I have really enjoyed training and working with the team.

“We are a cohesive group, with a range of backgrounds and useful skills to bring to the service. We are all dedicated to the compassionate care of those in need, providing therapies, tools and support that will help these individuals to live fulfilling lives both on, and when they leave, the ward.”

Richard Watson, Deputy Chief Officer and Chief Transformation Office of the NHS Ipswich & East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups welcome the re-opening of Suffolk’s Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit and hope that the families and friends of people in the county who are affected by mental health issues will be reassured to learn that Lark Ward is now ready to accept patients again.

“We very much hope that its five remaining beds will become operational again early in the New Year.”

Jane Millar and Chris Hedges, Co-Chairs of the Healthwatch Suffolk Mental Health Focus Group, and Andy Yacoub, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said:

“We are aware of the challenges faced by the Trust and understand why the closure of the Lark Ward was a necessity back in April.

“Unfortunately, the consequences of the decision to close have been significant and we must be cognisant of the impact on patients and their families; many of whom have been sent away from their local communities to receive appropriate care. We simply cannot underestimate the impact of this on their wellbeing and that of their families or carers.

“It is important to note that the Trust has kept us appraised with developments throughout this closure and has assured us that the new ward team have been carefully selected, trained and prepared for the re-opening of this important facility. A phased approach is entirely appropriate but the Trust must aspire to make all beds available for patient care at the earliest opportunity.

“We sincerely hope anything that needed to be learned from this closure has been reviewed and that the Trust will ensure measures are put in place to prevent this situation from re-occurring in the future.

“The Trust is a partner of the independently chaired Mental Health Focus Group facilitated by Healthwatch Suffolk. It is a forum that brings together patients, service users, carers and professionals to talk about and jointly agree actions for improving care in the county. There is an offer for the group to monitor and help develop Lark Ward into a service that local people and staff can be proud of."

Jayne Stevens, Manager of Suffolk User Forum (SUF), a service user led mental health charity, said SUF very much welcomes the news that Lark Ward is to be re-opened.

“SUF has valued working in close partnership with leaders at NSFT over the last few months,” she said. “We have received regular updates on developments and been supported to ensure service users were at the heart of all staff recruitment for Lark Ward, in readiness for its opening.

“It is very re-assuring that this very specialist Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit will be operational again, providing much needed local, treatment for the most acutely unwell patients.”

Anne Humphrys, Co-Chair of Suffolk Parent Carer Network, said “We welcome the re-opening of Lark Ward as it is essential that service users are kept as close to home as possible.

“We have been kept fully informed by the Trust of the extensive programme of work they have undertaken to ensure the right staff are in place and are assured that patient safety has been their priority for Lark Ward. We look forward to continuing to work with them towards the reopening of all the beds on the ward.”

Caption: John Bingham, Ward Manager, Lark Ward

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