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Ipswich mental health service 'to close by 2021'

PUBLISHED: 18:42 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 18:42 03 July 2019

Stuart Richardson, chief operating officer at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, has confirmed the closure of Walker Close in Ipswich Picture: NSFT

Stuart Richardson, chief operating officer at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, has confirmed the closure of Walker Close in Ipswich Picture: NSFT

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Inpatient beds for people with learning disabilities at an Ipswich-based mental health unit are due to close, it has emerged.

Walker Close in Ipswich, which had to shut to new admissions between March and June, is closing for good by 2021 Picture: GOOGLE MAPSWalker Close in Ipswich, which had to shut to new admissions between March and June, is closing for good by 2021 Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

Walker Close, which supports people who have a learning disability and mental health needs, "does not meet national quality standards required for an inpatient unit", according to NHS bosses.

It is understood its facilities are earmarked for closure within the next two years under a national programme - in which the NHS plans to close learning disability-only inpatient beds by 2021 across England.

Just a week ago, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), which runs Walker Close, apologised for a temporary eight-week closure at the unit earlier this year, when they were unable to recruit a consultant psychiatrist.

Now, in a joint statement, the NSFT's chief operating officer Stuart Richardson and Lisa Nobes, chief nurse at Suffolk's clinical commissioning groups, said: "The Walker Close facilities do not meet the national quality standards required for an inpatient unit.

Director of nursing at the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, Lisa Nobes Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNDirector of nursing at the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, Lisa Nobes Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

"Any money saved as a result of its closure will be re-invested solely in learning disability / autism services for Suffolk patients."

'Parents are being hoodwinked' - Whistleblowers raise concern

Whistleblowers have warned "the wool is being pulled over people's eyes" and claimed that the NSFT has not been transparent enough about the closure.

One claimed: "Parents are being hoodwinked with a recent apology by the trust in the Ipswich Star about Walker Close.

"It seemed as if they were just saying it was temporary but the reality is the unit is earmarked for closure by 2021. They have a right to be concerned. The wool is being pulled over people's eyes."

While another added: "I don't think it's fair that a group of people with very complex needs are now going to have to be moved elsewhere, potentially into other inpatient units where their specific needs could be overlooked."

Staff and families have been informed about the closure by Mr Richardson, the trust confirmed.

There will be no redundancies as a result of the closure, they added.

What happens now?

The beds will not close until community provision is fully established, and any additional staff training is completed.

In the meantime, the CCGs and NSFT will be consulting with patients, carers, staff and other partners before any final decisions are made over changes to the care they provide to people with learning disabilities.

If an adult with a learning disability has to be admitted, the NSFT will admit them into a bed they feel best meets their needs.

This may include moving them to an adult acute ward, with specialist learning disability team members actively involved in their care, they said.

Why are the beds closing?

The beds, which are Suffolk's only inpatient facilities specifically for people with learning disabilities, are earmarked for closure under a national programme.

"We are working together and with our other partners to implement NHS England's Transforming Care programme for those with a learning disability and/or autism," the joint statement adds.

MORE: Mental health trust 'sorry' for mental health unit closure

"In Suffolk, this means the CCGs are reviewing all the current inpatient and community service provision for those people.

"The reduction in the use of institutional care and a focus on community-facing care gives people the best chance of living a rewarding and happy life.

"The aim is always to try to prevent people with a learning disability being admitted to an inpatient unit in the first place."

The 'Transforming Care' programme is being delivered by NHS England.

The scheme aims to improve health and care services so more people can live in the community and be treated closer to home.

It ties in with a national plan to develop community services and close inpatient facilities for people with a learning disability or autism.

They decided to do this in the wake of figures which suggested inpatient care nationally had reduced by a fifth.

Last week, we revealed Walker Close had been closed for eight weeks earlier this year because NSFT chiefs were unable to recruit a consultant psychiatrist for the facility.

During this time, one patient was sent out of the trust area for treatment.

It came as patients across the trust were transported up to 250 miles away from Suffolk and Norfolk for mental health care.

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