Shutting down mental health facilities in Luton and Houghton Regis will 'tear families apart'

Plans to close mental health facilities in Houghton Regis and Luton “will tear families apart and leave those in crisis to suffer in silence", it has been claimed.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 1:49 pm
Updated Thursday, 4th March 2021, 11:00 am

A proposed £60m mental health building at Shires House in Bedford is expected lead to three premises in south Bedfordshire being shut down.

Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group and East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) are say they are committed to developing state-of-the-art mental health inpatient services in the county.

The planned investment is likely to result in the closure of Townsend Court in Houghton Regis, and Oakley Court and Calnwood Court in Luton.

Oakley Court is among the three premises expected to close

It has been described as "a once in a generation opportunity for the people of Central Bedfordshire and Bedford borough" by ELFT medical director Dr Dudley Manns.

But the move "will devastate the local support available”, according to South West Bedfordshire’s Labour Party’s disability officer Natashya Becks.

"It's an outrage that ELFT is trying to remove our local mental health facilities from those with the most severe problems," she said.

"These people are more than just numbers on report sheets. They're our friends, our family, our community, who'll be left hanging by a thread.

"It will separate us from our loved ones at the time they need us most. People will be moved miles away to suffer alone in hospital units.

"So many more of us will be isolated and suffering in silence with no local or on the doorstep support to turn to. The need to access the right support when in crisis is life-saving.

"How's it fair to relocate mental health facilities to one community, but remove them from another?" she asked.

"There must be equality. Every mind matters. Every community’s wellbeing matters. Closing our facilities will cause so much unjustified heartbreak for so many people.

"The mental health of those in the most severe crisis is on the line here," she warned.

"This project must only add to, not replace, our mental health provision. Our local inpatient services must be protected."

Residents across the area have labelled the threatened closure of local mental health facilities "catastrophic", she added.

"If it goes ahead this year, the stripping back of local services threatens to only widen health inequality and deprive the most in need residents in south Bedfordshire of accessible and importantly local inpatient support.

"The prospect of a new facility for wellbeing is marvellous and one I'm sure everyone welcomes.

"But to shut them down in more deprived areas in a replacement programme isn't the way forward to achieve the mental health needs of all of our community.

"We can only hope ELFT will take this into consideration in its forthcoming public consultation.

“Comprehensive engagement with all residents surrounding accessibility, the suitability of Bedford town, and real need across the county is vital."

ELFT currently provides 59 beds for adults with mental health problems in the county.

Its director of integrated care Richard Fradgley described the site in Bedford as "complex", following a recent fire.

"We've started detailed work on demand and capacity," he told Central Bedfordshire Council's social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee in January.

A spokesperson for ELFT, the provider, and Bedfordshire and Luton Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Groups (BLMK CCGs) said: "As part of our whole system approach to improving mental health services, BLMK CCGs and ELFT are committed to improving inpatient mental health services for residents of Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton.

"We are currently at the very early stages of developing our proposals and have not yet taken any decisions.

"We intend to engage and consult widely with service users and carers, residents and stakeholders over the coming months to help develop our proposals.

"In any changes we propose to take forward, we would aim to ensure that our services remain local and accessible to residents."