Should mental health services be based in Bedfordshire's two hospitals?

Mental health services in Bedfordshire could be divided between the county's two main hospitals as talks continue to axe two other facilities.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 2:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 3:17 pm
Mental health services could be divided between Bedford and L&D Hospitals

Mental health facilities at sites in Luton and Houghton Regis which were once “cutting edge” are now dated and facing possible closure, a meeting heard.

Space for occupational therapy and psychology is limited at both Townsend Court in Houghton Regis and Oakley Court in Leagrave, Luton, according to East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) medical director Dr Dudley Manns.

“Our staff teams have been mitigating the shortfalls of the Houghton Regis and Leagrave units over the 45 years they’ve been in operation,” he told Luton Borough Council’s health and social care review group.

“It would be our intention to move away from these, where staff recruitment is a struggle,” he explained,

“The Oakley Court location isn’t ideal for an acute adult mental health facility."

He added that the Trust wants to relocate the older adults ward to Calnwood Court, based at Luton & Dunstable Hospital, in order to be close to medical care.

It is the first public confirmation that Calnwood Court is expected to remain open, following previous meetings (see here) when it was mentioned for reallocation alongside Townsend Court and Oakley Court.

A new £60m mental health investment is being planned at Shires House, adjoining Bedford Hospital. The building was gutted by fire in 2019 and is now part of the renamed 'Bedford Health Village'.

The development, if approved, would mean a return of inpatient mental health services to Bedford, after the closure of Weller Wing at Bedford Hospital in 2017.

“There are anxieties with discussion of the closure of any ward or unit,” said Dr Manns.

“But we think these changes will be positive for the population of Bedfordshire.”

Following previous presentations to Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire Councils, ELFT director of integrated care Richard Fradgley promised “significant new investment into mental health services in Luton”.

This would include “children and young people’s mental health provision, as well as our primary care psychology services, community services for adults and perinatal”, he said.

“Improving in-patient mental health services is a critical part of our whole system approach, almost all of which are delivered from Luton and Houghton Regis.

“We’re also looking at travel impact and that’s a really critical piece of thinking.

“There are few Luton patients admitted to Townsend Court and Oakley Court, which largely serve residents in Bedford and Central Bedfordshire.

“So we’d potentially move from four sites to two, one in Bedford and one in Luton.

“We continue to have our Luton centre for mental health on site next to the Luton and Dunstable Hospital, which we’re looking to improve further.

“As for next steps, we’re developing a case for change, which will set out the context and rationale for our proposals.”

Children have to travel far when they need care, with resulting issues for the young people and their families, he added.

“So we want to make a case to NHS England to create that capacity as part of these developments.

“We’re also considering moving psychiatric intensive care from Luton to Bedford.

“There are nine beds, which are shared across Luton and Bedfordshire.”

The planning process could last a year to 18 months, while developing the Shires House site would take a further two years.

Loraine Rossati, from Luton Clinical Commissioning Group, estimated 88 beds at the Bedford unit.

“That’s not definite, but rather initial thoughts based on population growth and other factors around the required bed capacity to cover the next 20 years,” she said