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Suffolk patient moved 150 miles to Derbyshire mental health unit following Lark Ward closure

PUBLISHED: 18:39 06 April 2018 | UPDATED: 18:39 06 April 2018

The Woodlands mental health unit in Ipswich, where Lark Ward is based. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

The Woodlands mental health unit in Ipswich, where Lark Ward is based. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Archant

A Suffolk father is facing a six-hour round trip to visit his vulnerable son following the closure of a vital mental health unit in Ipswich.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) shut Lark Ward at the Woodlands centre today because of severe staff shortages.

The number of beds on the ward – Suffolk’s only psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) – had already been reduced from 10 to seven in October because of gaps in the rota.

Peter Devlin, NSFT operations director for Suffolk, said the ward would reopen when it was “safe to do so”, but has warned it would be a matter of months.

A Stowmarket man whose 20-year-old son is a patient on Lark Ward, based in the grounds of Ipswich Hospital, has spoken to this newspaper anonymously about the family’s experiences.

He said his son, who has a form of autism, had been moved on Thursday 150 miles away to Storthfield House in South Normanton, Derbyshire.

“It’s very stressful, he was quite upset when he left, as were myself and his mother,” the father said. “It’s not nice at all. He seems to be settling in OK.”

The journey will take six hours to get there and back.

“I will probably have to stay the night to make it worth while, which is obviously a financial cost,” he added.

The family first found out about the Lark Ward closure from their social worker and the man said communication from NSFT had been poor.

“We still never heard anything from the managers of the trust,” he said. “They never communicated anything to us about the whole thing.”

NSFT, which is rated ‘inadequate’, has confirmed it needs to fill 9.5 full-time nursing vacancies on Lark Ward, which cares for people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The beds are among 36 shut by NSFT since autumn because of recruitment problems and urgent building maintenance.

Three of the 10 beds at Suffolk Rehabilitation and Recovery Service are out of action until late May, and the other closures are in Norfolk.

NSFT chief operating officer Josie Spencer said: “We are sorry but we cannot comment on individual cases. There are some situations where service users need to transfer to services outside of our trust’s area for specialised treatment that is not provided by NSFT.

“We fully understand the distress out of area placements can cause service users and their families, particularly at a time when they are at their most vulnerable but these decisions are always taken in the best clinical interests of the service user.”

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