Women’s mental health unit near Wymondham is saved from closure - but number of beds will be reduced

Ben Curran, head of operations, Norfolk service, at Julian Support. Photo: Bill Smith

Ben Curran, head of operations, Norfolk service, at Julian Support. Photo: Bill Smith

A threatened women's mental health unit has been saved from closure, but has been forced to cut six of its 14 beds.

Carol Brady uses Ashcroft Residential Home for respite care. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Carol Brady uses Ashcroft Residential Home for respite care. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Management of Ashcroft residential home in the village of Wicklewood, near Wymondham, were set to close the unit in March, claiming a funding cut from Norfolk County Council would have resulted in unsafe staffing levels.

This prompted an outcry from service users, with thousands signing a petition to save Ashcroft, and negotiations restarted between the county council and the Julian Support charity which runs Ashcroft.

Agreement has now been reached, with the county council making an increased funding offer for the seven beds it commissions for a new three-year contract, and Julian Support agreeing to make some savings.

But in a separate blow, six beds which had been commissioned by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust on a pilot scheme will not be funded next year.

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Ben Curran, Norfolk head of operations for the charity, said the pilot scheme was never planned to be long-term, and he did not criticise the mental health trust.

Many women who have stayed at Ashcroft have a diagnosis of personality disorder, self-harm as a way of coping, have previously been hospitalised after a crisis and speak of traumatic childhood experiences.

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The centre will offer seven beds for extended use of up to six months, and one for respite care for one to two weeks.

Mr Curran said this was 'good news', said he was grateful to the county council for re-opening negotiations and was 'humbled' by the weight of support from service users and the wider community.

Catherine Underwood, director of integrated commissioning at Norfolk County Council and Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Groups, said: 'Ashcroft is a valuable service that provides very specific support to a number of vulnerable women and the uncertainty surrounding its future has caused a lot of concern.

'We've been working with Julian Support over the past 18 months and had a very positive conversation with them recently.

'Julian Support has been able to identify ways to reduce their costs and we have increased our funding offer to a level that Julian Support believe would enable them to continue providing a safe and good quality level of care for the seven beds purchased by the county council.

'We will continue to work with them as they develop their plans for the future of the service.'

The Save Ashcroft campaign group is pressing for the long-term future of the unit to be secured, and is hosting a meeting at the Vauxhall Centre, in Vauxhall Street, Norwich from 7.30pm to 9.30pm on Thursday, January 8, with all welcome.

The full written statement from Mr Curran reads: 'A future for Ashcroft, a CQC registered residential care service for women with severe mental health problems in Norfolk, is now possible as a result of negotiations between Norfolk County Council commissioners and the service provider Julian Support.

'Julian Support had previously announced that the service would close after the council proposed to reduce its funding for the seven beds it purchases at Ashcroft.

'Following a meeting between the County Council and Julian Support on December 5 an agreement was reached which both believed would enable Julian Support to continue providing a safe level of care for the seven beds purchased by the council.

'This was achieved by the council increasing its funding offer and Julian Support identifying ways it could reduce costs.

'While this is good news, it does still mean some changes to the way in which the service will be delivered and a reduction in the number of beds that will be available for service users.

'The safety and wellbeing of the women accessing Ashcroft and our staff has always been the primary concern, and we believe that this is now achievable for the service.

'We are enormously grateful to the support that we have received over the last month, particularly from service users who have demonstrated a strong voice in advocating for the services that they need.

'Our staff members at Ashcroft have continued to deliver high quality care and support to the women throughout what has undoubtedly been a very challenging time.

'We have also been overwhelmed by support from local MPs, county councillors, statutory mental health colleagues and the wider public.

'We have been humbled by the concern that they have shown.

'We are grateful to Norfolk County Council for reopening discussions and we are hopeful that continuing collaboration will help to produce a long-term strategy for the development of this critical service.'

Service users had previously spoken in support of Ashcroft, emphasising how vital the service was to the women who use it.

Carol Brady, from Norwich, stayed in the care home for six months in 2007, and has used it since for respite care.

'Without Ashcroft I probably wouldn't be here today,' she said. 'The staff are brilliant and understanding of what I'm going through. 'They have helped me so much.

'There is nowhere else like it.'

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