A mental health unit in Suffolk that was forced to close due to staff shortages will welcome patients again next week after successfully recruiting 24 new nurses.
Lark Ward, a psychiatric intensive care unit for adults in Ipswich run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), will reopen five of its 10 beds on Monday 24 September.
“We’ve been delighted with the response to our recruitment campaign, at a time when there’s a national shortage of mental health nurses”
The ward will now be managed by experienced nurse, John Bingham.
The trust reduced the number of beds on the ward from 10 to seven in October last year due to rota gaps.
Continuing understaffing meant the trust had to shut the unit completely on 6 April.
Leaders from Healthwatch Suffolk said vulrenable patients had been sent away from their communities for care as a result of the closure.
Lark Ward, located at the Woodlands unit on the site of Ipswich Hospital, requires a higher staff-to-patient ratio to ensure more intensive treatment can be provided to those most acutely unwell.
“The reopening marks a new chapter for the unit and we are looking forward to delivering high-quality, effective care”
In total, the trust has recruited 27 new staff for Lark Ward, 24 of whom are nurses.
The trust has also secured four registered mental health nurses from agencies to work on the ward on long-term contracts while its recruitment campaign continues.
Peter Devlin, NSFT’s operations director for Suffolk, said: “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.”
Mr Devlin said the trust hoped to reopen the remaining five beds “over the coming months”.
Mr Bingham said Lark Ward would reopen in a “safe phased way” to give the new team a chance to bed down.
”Unfortunately, the consequences of the decision to close have been significant and we must be cognisant of the impact on patients and their families”
He added: “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.”
NSFT is currently rated ‘inadequate’ by the Care Quality Commission and has been assigned the ‘outstanding’ East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) as a “buddy trust” to help drive improvements.
Mr Bingham said he was working closely with ELFT to share best practice. He also revealed 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,” Mr Bingham added.
Jane Millar and Chris Hedges, co-chairs of the Healthwatch Suffolk Mental Health Focus Group, and Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, have released a joint statement in reaction to the reopening.
They said they hoped lessons had been learnt by NSFT from the closure and that measures would be put in place to prevent a similar situation happening again in the future.
“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,” they said.
“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.”
They assured the trust had kept Healthwatch Suffolk appraised with developments throughout the closure and that the new ward team had been “carefully selected, trained and prepared for the re-opening of this important facility”.