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Watchdog publishes views on referral into mental health services

The Access and Assessment Team (AAT) of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is the single point of assessment for mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk. Upon referral from a health professional, the AAT will provide triage and, if appropriate, provide a plan of support. This may include referral on to other services within or external to NSFT.

Healthwatch Suffolk, the counties health and care watchdog, has been working closely with NSFT to seek the views of service users as to their experience of referral into mental health services via the AAT. Specifically the aims were to explore the quality of the service and the level of care provided by members of staff within the AAT.

Upon discharge from the AAT, service users were invited to give views through surveys, telephone interviews and drop-in sessions. Engaging service users that are trying to access support for their mental health can be challenging and requires careful management to avoid emotional distress or other anxieties. With that considered, a total of 124 individuals completed the survey amounting to a response rate of 12%.

The findings show that members of staff within the AAT provide a high level of service to the majority of service users referred to it. It concludes however that service users feel GPs, Healthcare professionals and members of staff within the AAT could refine their practice in order to improve patient experience. Findings include:

  • For the most part, service users were happy with the way that members of staff had treated them and felt that their views were listened to.

  • Some people felt that they had not been kept informed throughout the referral process or about what would happen once discharged from the AAT.

  • A very small number of service users said that they had not been treated with dignity and respect. This may highlight a need for additional care to be taken by staff when interacting with some service users.

  • Information received on first contact with a health professional or GP is a key issue. A third of service users said their GP or healthcare professional did not explain what would happen next and 17% of those said they did not fully understand the information. It is important for AAT professionals and GPs to check that service users understand what they are being told about their treatment.

Annie Topping, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: "Overall our findings resonate with those of the CQC in that staff are providing caring treatment to service users. We would strongly encourage the Trust to keep up the good work in this area with strong leadership and support to its staffing teams."

"We have made a number of recommendations on a range of issues including information and communications, which is a very clear theme. It will be important that the Trust identifies more opportunities to update service users regarding the progress of their referral and about what will happen to them next. Furthermore, we consider that service users should always feel listened to and that they have been able to shape and influence their particular treatment plan where appropriate."

"In order to build trust and demonstrate listening, the Trust must make continued drives to connect with its service users on these issues. We know that there are plans in process to address the issues highlighted by the CQC in its recent inspections and we would like the Trust to use this report to inform those required improvements."

Jane Sayer, Director of Nursing, Quality and Patient Safety at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: "I welcome the opportunity to work with Healthwatch Suffolk on this important piece of work.  I'm very pleased that our staff were found to be caring and helpful, and we will work to make sure that this is experienced by everyone who is in touch with our Suffolk services in the future."

To view the full report please click here to visit the Healthwatch Suffolk website.