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Future vision of Norfolk mental health

PUBLISHED: 10:51 12 October 2009 | UPDATED: 15:17 03 July 2010

The new boss of Norfolk's mental health trust is putting care in people's homes and more work with volunteers at the heart of his plans for dealing with the financial crisis.

The new boss of Norfolk's mental health trust is putting care in people's homes and more work with volunteers at the heart of his plans for dealing with the financial crisis.

Aidan Thomas was speaking as he started work at Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, where he has taken over from former chief executive Pat Holman.

Mr Thomas, who was boss of the West Essex primary care trust (PCT), says he needs to tackle the problems of an ageing population with its higher levels of dementia, at the same time as cutbacks in NHS spending.

He said: “We need to use the voluntary sector but without exploiting them, and to have a more preventative approach to delivering care, such as supporting people at home more. We simply won't be able to staff beds in the same way.”

He added: “We need to make sure if we have to cut our costs, that we do it by focusing on support functions and our estate rather than direct services.

“I think this trust is already quite efficient. It has got very low bed numbers per head because it has been focusing on community provision.

“But there is no avoiding the level of funding that needs to come out of the system.”

Mr Thomas, 50, says his proudest achievements are the closure of Tooting Bec mental hospital in London in 1990, getting the residents out of the wards and into houses.

“It was almost like they had got their own lives back,” he said.

He is also proud of helping to get a new hospital for older people built, St Margaret's in Epping, which he says is very popular with local people, and helping people with long-term conditions manage and improve their health.

“There are management highlights too, but the real highlights are

those things - that is why we are all here.”

He wanted the job in Norfolk because of the trust's good reputation, because of Norfolk's beauty and because he wanted to be more involved in hands-on delivery of services - his work at the PCT was increasingly about buying services rather than directly providing

them.

He is currently staying in a flat in Norwich during the week and returning to the family home near Great Dunmow in Essex at weekends.

He plans to move his family to Norfolk, but has not yet decided where.

His wife Sarah teaches children with severe learning disabilities. They have a son and a daughter, aged 17 and 16.

Today is World Mental Health Day, but despite awareness-raising efforts he says mental health is a “Cinderella service” which does not get as much funding as other types of healthcare, and is not as well understood by the public.

“There is a huge stigma attached to mental health, which there shouldn't be.”

Another of his goals is to improve care for adults “which is already very good” and involve patients more in the design of more flexible services.

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