MENTAL health across the region has seen “unprecedented demand” and continues to be the Cinderella story of the NHS, say bosses at Avon and Wiltshire Mental health partnership.

Just six weeks into his job as new chief executive, Dominic Hardisty is already planning for a CQC visit before Christmas and says work has been done to improve its current Requires Improvement rating with the standards board.

The NHS trust gives mental health services for people who live in Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES), Bristol, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Swindon and Wiltshire.

During its last inspection in 2018, the service was found to be Inadequate on wards for people with learning disabilities or autism and Requires Improvement overall.

Ahead of the next assessment, he says he is confident that the service has improved.

Speaking at the annual general meeting in Corsham, Mr Hardisty said: “We are doing a huge amount of work in the Devizes Daisy ward in Devizes, for people with learning disabilities and the service has been turbo charged.

“The other area is our children and adolescent mental health service where again there has been a massive programme over the last 18 months.”

During the annual meeting it was revealed that staff satisfaction at the service remains well below average and the new chief executive said this was another areas he was keen to focus on.

One worker has seen 20 colleagues leave the service in the last 10 years, many fed up with the trust. He said: “I’ve seen colleagues leave because their own mental health hasn’t been supported or let go over high sickness rates. Maybe if we had looked into their situations more we could have retained some really good staff.” The group is set to end up with a £1m deficit by the end of the year due to “unprecedented demand” for mental health services. Over the summer nearly 50 people had to be cared for outside of the area because mental health care near home was completely full.

Understaffing has led to high agency costs to cover services, putting more pressure on the service.

Simon Trulove, director of finance, said: “I anticipate we will end on a £1m deficit and next year will be a similar picture. We are doing everything we can to bring that in line but our situation echoes the national picture.Throughout July and August there was unprecedented demand on services. It was so escalated at some points there were 45 people in beds out of the geographic area, which brings its costs and puts pressure on the whole system. This pressure also leads to more staff sickness and taking time off.

“We have invested significant capital into our IT systems. Up until recently a lot of our computers were eight years old, now no computers should be more than five years old.”

Mr Hardisty added: “The NHS is under enormous pressure and there are pockets of workforce gaps.This pressure is being felt nowhere as strongly then in mental health. It is the Cinderella service of the NHS and has been that way historically, but that has been accidental.

“Then six or seven years ago the NHS started to take big notice, but we are still way behind where we should be.

“Through things like the staff survey we can see there has been a history of bullying, harassment and people not getting the tools that require to do the job within the NHS and that has to change.”

“We know we don’t always do things well, we do mostly but one time it is not done well is one time too many.”