Union launches campaign for safe staffing at Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust after poor CQC report

The watchdog recently rated some of the city-region’s community mental health teams as ‘inadequate’, which the trade union says the problems stem from a lack of staff.

A leading trade union has launched a campaign for safe staffing levels at Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) following the latest ruling by the watchdog.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) recently rated some of the community mental health teams in the city-region as “inadequate”.

Unison says it was not surprised by the downgrading and expected more services to struggle to maintain their ratings, saying the problems at the trust stem from a chronic lack of staff.

It has now launched a campaign to get employee numbers back up to safe levels.

What is Unison doing at Greater Manchester Mental Health Trust?

Unison says the CQC came to inspect the trust after whistleblowers raised concerns about staffing levels at GMMH.

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The trade union says it was concerned about access to safe care when a new model was brought in across all of Manchester’s community mental health teams in 2018.

Unison feared staff would be overwhelmed but said its worries were not responded to by the trust’s management.

The trade union says that since then staff who did not feel safe at work have left en masse and hit out at the trust’s bosses, saying they should have listened to employees and union representatives over the past five years since GMMH was formed.

Unison says it is now launching a campaign to bring back safe staffing levels across mental health services in Greater Manchester and also rejected any suggestion that issues around employee numbers could be blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic.

What has the union said about the campaign?

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Unison regional organiser Lyndsey Marchant said: “We have been raising concerns about the serious lack of staff in many of Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Trust in-patient and community teams for some time.

“We have said this puts Unison members at risk of both physical harm and prolonged mental distress. It also means staff cannot provide a safe and timely service for our service users, so services are unsafe for them too.

“We will continue to talk with senior managers to try to resolve the chronic lack of staff.

“We feel as though the trust’s unwillingness to address our concerns has contributed to this announcement from the CQC. GMMH have still not provided a plan to the unions and did not communicate with their unions about the CQC visit or the warning.

“The trust needs more money from government to put this right. This is why we’re launching a Safe Staffing Campaign to push for better funded and properly staffed mental health services.

“We will actively work with service users, their families, friends, other trade unionists, NHS campaigners, MPs and councillors where we can, to make mental health services better. “

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What has the mental health trust said?

Responding to the CQC’s report Deborah Partington, chief operating officer at GMMH, said: “We acknowledge the findings of the CQC’s inspection of two of our Central Manchester-based community mental health teams and will address the concerns within their report.

“Before the inspection, we were aware of the challenges faced by Central Manchester’s mental health teams and there are already plans in place to improve waiting times for service users.

“In line with the national picture, recruitment of registered professionals for community mental health teams is increasingly difficult and this inevitably puts pressure on the capacity of services. Therefore, we are looking at ways to make roles attractive for newly-qualified and experienced staff to want to join our teams, including supporting roles.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the mental health of our communities which has led to an increase in demand for our services and we are also seeing higher levels of mental illness which is requiring more intensive care and support.

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“However, we have a process whereby we review, prioritise and monitor individuals who are waiting for assessment and treatment, with face to face appointments for those who are in the most urgent need of support.

“We are also making better use of technology and using a management and supervision tool which helps mental health professionals review key data to identify the risks of a service user going into a crisis, which is vital when working with sizeable caseloads.

“Our staff have had a very challenging two years and therefore we are delivering projects on staff health and wellbeing to support those who are at work to remain well and to help those who are off sick to return when they are recovered, as safely as possible.

“Along with our partners, we will continue to work as hard as we can to improve our services for those who need us, and we would like to reassure people that service users in our care are safe.

“We monitor the safety and risk of service users very carefully and prioritise those who need urgent help or a safeguarding risk. There are processes in place for service users to contact our teams when they need to, as well as a 24/7 helpline for anyone in an immediate mental health crisis.”

In response to the union’s campaign, a trust spokesperson added: “The trust held discussions with unions in the days leading up to publication of the CQC report.

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“We have had longstanding engagement with union representatives and will continue to seek to work together with them, in order to address the issues we face, in a spirit of openness and transparency.”

What did the CQC say?

The CQC’s latest report on some of the trust’s community mental health teams working with adults found there were not enough staff to meet the needs of the service, workloads were too high and employees could not see patients frequently enough to keep them safe.

There were concerns about waiting times and lack of contact and vacancy rates were high.

Patients and carers were also struggling to get in touch with staff about care and treatment, meaning it was difficult for the trust to be informed about a patient’s mental health condition deteriorating or for loved ones to seek support if a patient was in crisis.

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Risk assessments were not always done and care plans were not always up to date.

The CQC issued the trust with a warning notice as it believes the quality of health care provided requires significant improvement.