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Unsafe nurse staffing levels spark ‘new approach’ to dementia care in Somerset

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A trust is introducing what it is calling a “new approach” to dementia assessment and treatment for patients in response to continued difficulties in recruiting registered mental health nurses.

The move by Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust follows ongoing problems with nurse shortages on its Magnolia Ward, a seven bed dementia assessment unit.

“We were becoming increasingly concerned about our ability to maintain safe nursing levels”

Andy Heron

Next month, the unit in Yeovil will close on a temporary basis, said the trust in a statement issued on Wednesday.

As a result, it will open additional dementia beds at Pyrland Ward in Taunton, which specialises in the treatment of older patients with dementia and has a team of specialist nurses and other staff.

Additional dementia nursing home beds will be commissioned in the South Somerset area, along with a new seven-day community outreach service, so patients and their carers can be supported at home, said the trust.

The aims of the new outreach service will be, as far as possible, to support patients in the comfort of their own home and avoid hospital, noted the trust.

“We will now consider the long-term options for mental health services in the county”

Andy Heron

Andy Heron, the trust’s chief operating officer, said: “We have been monitoring nursing vacancies closely at Magnolia Ward over the last year, as the team struggled to recruit mental health nurses from the surrounding area and further afield.

“Having exhausted all recruitment possibilities, we were becoming increasingly concerned about our ability to maintain safe nursing levels on every shift at Magnolia Ward and also our increasing reliance on agency staff,” he said.

“We have decided to end the ongoing uncertainty and to temporarily consolidate older peoples’ inpatient beds onto one site in Somerset,” said Mr Heron.

“This is a temporary measure and we will now consider the long-term options for mental health services in the county,” he said.

Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Nurse shortage sparks ‘new approach’ to dementia care

Andy Heron

The trust said the changes to services would come into effect during July and it intended to provide enough time for current inpatients to complete their treatment on Magnolia Ward before it closed.

Mr Heron added: “While the timing of this change has been driven by concerns for patient safety, we are confident that this new approach to dementia services, designed by senior clinicians and piloted with our Yeovil patients, has the potential to make a real difference.

“We are grateful to our partners at Yeovil District Hospital for their support in developing this new service model,” he said.

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