100 mental health bed cuts concern in Norfolk and Suffolk

Norfolk and Suffolk's NHS mental health services merged in 2012 and must save £40m over the next four years Image copyright BBC/Laurence Cawley
Image caption Norfolk and Suffolk's NHS mental health services merged in 2012 and must save £40m over four years

A union has warned of "serious consequences" for mental health patients in Suffolk and Norfolk after it emerged bed capacity had been cut by nearly 100 over the past four years.

Unison said staff had warned of being "overwhelmed and overworked" as Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) tries to save £40m over four years.

Some patients are having to be sent up to 200 miles (321km) for a bed.

The trust said the fall in bed numbers was part of a nationwide trend.

The BBC Freedom of Information request found the number of beds available for sectioned patients at NSFT fell by 93 from April 2011 to a total of 481 in April 2014.

It also discovered the number of sectioned patients who were sent to beds outside of Norfolk and Suffolk rose from 32 in 2011-12 to 56 in 2013-14.

The patients were sent to units in as far away as Yorkshire, Cheshire and Somerset.

Image caption Emma Corlett, of Unison, said greater resources were needed for mental health services in Norfolk and Suffolk

Emma Corlett, spokeswoman for Unison, said her members are concerned about the loss of beds.

She warned of "serious consequences" if there are not enough beds for people who are sectioned or enough resources to help them be cared for in their own homes.

"It is easier to find a kennels for a dog than it is to find a bed," she said.

"We have had demand increasing at a time that resources have been cut. Staff are feeling overwhelmed and overworked. They care deeply about what is happening," she said.

A spokesman for the trust said: "Nationally, figures show that a minimum of 1,711 mental health beds have been closed since April 2011, including 277 between April and August 2013.

"This represents a 9% reduction in the total number of mental health beds - 18,924 - available in 2011-12.

"Some of those changes have been about changing the way care is provided and away from the old model of care based around hospital beds.

"Demand for mental health services nationally are also on the rise and that has put more pressure on services."

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