Press release: Pioneering vulnerable adult support team wins national nursing award


A pioneering initiative to provide better support around the underlying causes of physical and mental health crises in the emergency department at Southampton's teaching hospitals has been recognised nationally for its success.

The vulnerable adult support team (VAST) at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust was named winner of the emergency and critical care category at the Nursing Times Awards 2018 on Wednesday.

Led by consultant nurse Sarah Charters, the team includes support staff who work alongside emergency department (ED) clinicians and mental health professionals to manage issues such as domestic abuse, homelessness and substance use which often trigger a physical or mental health crisis.

The ED at Southampton General Hospital sees around 450 patients a month as a direct result of mental health crises or substance use. Many more attend with physical health consequences of these issues, primarily due to excess alcohol but also physical injuries caused by domestic abuse and harm caused by homelessness.

VAST practitioners manage the psychological and social care needs of around 120 patients a month including screening, risk assessment, information giving, signposting, referral and safeguarding.

The development was named one of the trust's areas of outstanding practice by the Care Quality Commission during an inspection across the organisation in 2015.

“Many patients attend the ED with complex psychosocial problems including domestic abuse, substance use and homelessness,” explained Ms Charters, who was recently awarded an MBE or her service to vulnerable adults.

“Before VAST, these underlying causes of patients' health problems were often left unaddressed by clinical staff due to lack of time and, often, inadequate knowledge, experience or confidence to intervene.

“This groundbreaking team is now able to offer robust interventions to patients who attend with these issues and that is something we are extremely proud of.”

The initiative has led to a range of improvements, including life-saving referrals to specialist support services and releasing clinicians to care for other patients in need of medical attention.

As part of developments for vulnerable patients, Ms Charters helped to secure £300,000 from the Department of Health and Social Care last year to fund two specialist assessment rooms for patients with disturbed behaviour due to mental illness or substance use.

The rooms contain specialist features to keep patients safe and can accommodate adults or children. They are also used for those who need a quiet and confidential space to cope with a mental health crisis.

The VAST team was also shortlisted in the emergency nursing category at the RCNi Nurse Awards earlier this year.

Posted on Friday 2 November 2018