Health board proposes closure of Wales’ oldest psychiatric hospital as part of service shake up

Health officials are looking to close inpatient services in Whitchurch hopsital and move them to Llandough as part of a service shake-up

A health board has proposed closing Wales oldest psychiatric hospital as part of a shake up of mental health services in the area.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board want to move all inpatient psychiatric care to a unit in Llandough closing the current facility at Whitchurch Hospital in Cardiff.

Health officials say they have decided to invest in more community based care, following a “recovery model” instead of investing in a new building at the site.

But mental health charity MIND Cymru has raised concerns about the choice of preferred location of inpatient services – saying that the Llandough site is too isolated to work properly in a community care based model.

The move comes after plans to build a £60m new mental health hospital at the site were postponed earlier this year. The UHB agreed to conduct a review into mental health services in Cardiff and the surrounding areas in March in response to clinical concerns over plans to replace Whitchurch Hospital were put on hold.

A spokesperson for the health board today said that the review, which had consulted service users, carers and local clinicians, had concluded that there needed to be greater focus on a “recovery model” system favouring community care of inpatient treatment.

The review has also concluded that there should be changes in the way inpatient services are delivered, recommending that all services should be on a single site; the preferred location of which is the University Hospital, Llandough.

If the proposals are agreed, the Health Board will consider the future use of the Whitchurch Hospital site.

The health board already has plans to support a new health and wellbeing centre on the Whitchurch site; discussions are also on-going with the neighbouring Velindre NHS Trust about future uses of the hospital complex.

But a spokeswoman for MIND Cymru said that the review had been very quick and that the charity wanted to make sure that the views of all service users and carers in the area were heard during any future consultation on the plans.

Ruth Coombs welcomed the UHB’s move towards a community model but said that many service users may be distressed at the complete closure of the Whitchurch site. The charity also has concerns that poor transport links to the Llanfair inpatient unit at Llandough could make integration within the community difficult:

“For a community based recovery model to work effectively there needs to be de-stigmatisation of mental health and integration with any inpatient facilities within the community.

“Patients at Whitchurch are able to go out into the village – access banks, shops and other facilities available in the local community in a way which would be difficult to achieve if all inpatient facilities were moved to Llandough.”

She added that it was important that a structured process of de-stigmatisation of mental health problems was needed as part of any shake-up of existing services.

The charity also said that community care should not be seen as the “cheap option”.

“The commitment to the Recovery model is welcomed but needs to acknowledge that investment needs to take place in services that are not directly provided by the NHS itself if it is to succeed. There must be an emphasis on partnership working that is properly resourced with a recognition that prevention can often be a more cost effective solution.” said Cardiff MIND chief executive Roger Bone.

“It would be tragic if the opportunity to modernise the service for the benefit of people who are experiencing mental distress became hi-jacked as a relatively convenient source for cuts in the overall budget.”

There are 10 recommendations, which have been accepted by the UHB, including a commitment to strengthen community based mental health services and their links with health services.

A spokesperson for the board said that it had accepted the need to develop new services, including assertive outreach and an early intervention programme to support people experiencing a first episode of mental illness.

In agreeing the recommendations, the health board has agreed to work with the Cardiff and Vale Community Health Council to undertake a formal consultation on the proposals for change. It is expected that this will begin in late October 2010.

Katie Norton, executive director of Primary, Community and Mental Health Services, for Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, said the proposals had been developed by people with direct experience of the service.

“There has already been a huge amount of input from people involved in the mental health service in Cardiff and Vale, and the opportunity to formally consult on our proposals is welcomed to ensure we have a chance set out our vision and listen carefully to local people,” added Ms. Norton.

“The University Health Board will be aiming to make a final decision in January 2011″