Fears new mental health unit will not end ‘disgrace of transportation’

Jonathan Warren, chief executive at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo: NSFT

Jonathan Warren, chief executive at Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo: NSFT

Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust

A new state-of-the-art mental health unit could be built in Norwich, increasing the number of beds available by more than 30.

Hellesdon Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYHellesdon Hospital. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation NHS Trust (NSFT) has been given £40m from the government as part of a £1.8bn cash injection for the NHS, announced by new prime minister Boris Johnson over the weekend.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) was also given £69.7m as part of the announcement, while the South Norfolk clinical commissioning group was awarded £25.2m.

And NSFT, the region's mental health trust, has today revealed it hopes to use the funds to build a new unit at Hellesdon Hospital, creating 31 new beds.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Photo: Antony KellyNorth Norfolk MP Norman Lamb. Photo: Antony Kelly

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They say it will reduce the number of people who are sent out of area for support - but campaigners say they fear it will not be enough.

The plans would also include a gym, multi-use games area, secure outside spaces and dedicated therapy areas.

Jonathan Warren, NSFT chief executive, said: "We are absolutely delighted that we have been awarded this significant share of government funding, which will make a real difference to our service users and their families.

"Although plans are at an early stage, we are proposing to use the money to build a state-of-the-art unit at Hellesdon Hospital to which three of our existing, outdated wards will relocate, vastly improving the quality and safety of the environment in which our service users receive care.

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"This will increase the total number of beds which are available by 31, reducing the number of patients who have to travel outside of the area for treatment.

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"We also plan to include facilities such as a gym, multi-use games area, secure outside spaces and dedicated therapy areas, all of which will help service users to stay active and engaged during their recovery, in turn helping to keep their length of stay as short as possible.

"We look forward to working closely with our service users, carers, staff and NHS partners to develop our plans in more detail over the coming months so that we can make the very best use of this investment and ensure it brings the greatest benefits to local people."

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In March, it was revealed that 82 people from Norfolk and Suffolk had been sent away from their homes in January, spending roughly 1,359 nights out of county.

It was the highest figure since October 2016, and was condemned by campaigners.

A spokesperson for the Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk said: "Of course, we welcome this announcement of additional beds, for which we have been campaigning for more than five years. Our concern is whether these additional beds are sufficient. We need to make sure the disgrace of transportation is stopped once and for all."

They said an additional 31 beds did not appear to be enough, when taking into account recent out of area placement figures.

"What is needed is urgent investment in both beds and wider community mental health services," they said.

They said promises had been made in the past, and challenged health bosses to keep the existing wards open until there are no "inappropriate out of area transportations" and it is "proven [the wards] are no longer needed".

And Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, said: "The new beds are clearly welcome in that we simply cannot allow this continuing practice of sending people out of area, often in the middle of a crisis, often a long way away from home... But the new beds on their own won't bring an end to the crisis.

"It has to be complemented with working practices and an increased focus on prevention."

He said it was equally key to focus on learning mistakes from other areas of the country where out of area placements had been largely eliminated.

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