‘Systematic failings’ uncovered in West Sussex mental health services

West Sussex County Council is to apologise to mental health patients who were treated by staff not legally allowed to do so.

Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 12:39 pm
West Sussex County Council helps provide some of the county's mental health services

A scrutiny committee was told some of the warrants which allow members of the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) service to treat patients had expired.

The warrants cover a five-year period and, rather than following the correct procedure for renewal, the council simply extended them – which it should not have done.

While the issue was put down to an ‘administrative error’, a report to the committee described it as ‘unsafe and illegal practice’.

Loretta Rogers, the new head of adult operations, told the meeting the council had ‘taken its eye off the ball’ and was ‘very strongly and robustly rectifying [it] now’.

The problem was uncovered when a new mental health improvement lead was appointed, who carried out a review of the service last year, uncovering ‘significant systematic failings’.

Ms Rogers, who was only appointed in November, said: “We had got into a habit of extending those warrants for periods of time.

“Therefore any work that was done by the AMHPs in that period of time did not meet the statutory requirement.”

She assured the meeting that the staff involved we all ‘very experienced’ and the outcome for the patients would have been the same whether or not their warrants had expired.

That was not good enough for some, though, with Liberal Democrat leader Dr James Walsh later calling the situation ‘a scandal’.

Kevin Boram (Con, Shoreham South) labelled it ‘children’s services part two’ – referring to last year’s disastrous Ofsted inspection which saw control of that service removed from the council and placed in the hands of an independent trust.

Pointing out concerns in the report over staff shortages, weak governance and IT problems, Mr Boram asked how the situation had been allowed to go on for so long.

The service, which makes decisions about people who may be at considerable risk, has now been placed on the council’s risk register.

And work has been carried out with the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust on a better model for the service, which came into use earlier this year.

Dr Kate O’Kelly (Lib Dem, Midhurst) said it was important that ‘somebody takes responsibility for the fact the service has been failing’.

She added: “We should have done this a long time ago. It’s really concerning and we should have known.”

When asked for how long some AMHPs had been working with an expired warrant, a council spokesman would only say it varied.

Adding that all warrants were now up-to-date, she said: “As part of our duty of candour to patients and the relatives of any deceased patients, we are contacting those affected to apologise, to inform and reassure them that in a review of all the cases, the decisions made and treatment received, was correct and appropriate.

“We also welcome plans to introduce a new mental health service model, based on the latest best practice and which has robust governance arrangements.”

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