CONCERNS have been raised by a watchdog over Swindon’s mental health services’ ability to provide essential patient care in the midst of staff shortages.

After inspections at three of its recovery teams in the region, including North Wiltshire, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS failed to meet two of the five standards expected of any healthcare provider from the Care Quality Commission.

Despite some progress since the service was overhauled, leading to staff being redeployed and management restructured in 2012, AWP was still found to be lagging behind, with sporadic patient support and insufficient staffing levels to cope with increasing caseloads.

“We received mixed views about the service,” inspectors said in their report. “Some people were happy with the frequency of their visits/contacts and felt the service was reliable. They spoke positively about the staff.

“In some areas, most notably North Wiltshire, some people were dissatisfied with infrequent or irregular contact with the service and the lack of continuity.

“Some people still experienced difficulty accessing the service and some people were very anxious about the prospect of being discharged and not being able to access support.”

Staffing and the shortage of qualified and experienced employees able to deal with service users was also deplored by the watchdog. Heavy caseloads had proved demoralising for staff who were left feeling overwhelmed and stressed.

“There were not enough qualified, skilled and experienced staff to meet people’s needs,” inspectors went on. “Most of the staff in the three teams we visited felt that staffing levels had improved and caseloads were now more manageable; however some staff, particularly in North Wiltshire, told us that they were still concerned about their workload and the effect this had on them as workers and on the service they could provide.

“A medical practitioner told us: ‘We have been let down as a service through lack of resources and clear leadership. It is frustrating and demoralising’. Staff member D said: ‘Team morale is not good because of staffing levels. It is frustrating that there is an expectation that staff will soldier on. Lots of staff are working many more hours than they are paid for’.”

This impacted on service users who also told inspectors they felt abandoned by the system.

An AWP spokesman said a plan of action had been submitted to the CQC and that full time management cover would be provided to support staff.

“We were aware of the issues raised in the report, which is part of an ongoing inspection programme for AWP’s community services,” he said.

“The latest report acknowledges improvements in access to, and quality of community services and we have taken immediate action to ensure full-time management cover in North Wiltshire. A trust-wide action plan has been submitted and we look forward to further CQC feedback on improvements made.”