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Acute mental health services should be fit for our patients, service users and the staff who care for them

Acute mental health services should be fit for our patients, service users and the staff who care for them writes Sonya Clinch, clinical director for Acute Mental Health Services at West London NHS Trust.

“We know, when people find themselves in mental health crisis, the environment they are treated in is so important, along with the standard of care they receive from our staff. Since early 2021, we have been working with people in Ealing to review the acute mental health services we have provided from the Hope and Horizon wards in the Wolsey Wing on the St. Bernard’s Hospital site. These services were suspended, for safety reasons, early on in the pandemic – March 2020, to be precise.

“Even before the pandemic, we had faced significant challenges with the quality of the environment within Hope and Horizon wards. We had carried out repair and renovation projects to attempt to bring the wards up to a more modern and safe standard that you would expect of an acute ward. However, the Wolsey Wing, which was built more than 100 years before the NHS was founded, provides old-fashioned and outdated environments which don’t meet the requirements needed to carry out high-quality and safe care. This is a view shared by many of our patients and staff.

“The wards have poor ventilation, regular insect infestations – which are costly and challenging to resolve, very limited access to outdoor space, poor layout (meaning nurses have limited lines of sight from different parts of the ward, compromising patient safety) and design elements, such as ligature points, which could be used to cause harm. I know as a mental health nurse by background, and have heard it from our patients that being treated here has a significant and negative impact on their recovery.

Watch our video to see for yourself some of the challenges with the site.

“Being asked to work in these conditions has, understandably, meant we have had extreme difficulty in recruiting staff – leading to high agency costs and meaning the quality of care we can provide is compromised. The trust is committed to continuing as a key employer in Ealing – we have long standing roots within the area historically, and more recently, with leading the Ealing Community Partners coalition.

“The limited availability of funding means that, in spite of our best efforts, the wards remain in an unsatisfactory condition for our most vulnerable patients. And as previously mentioned, an environment that wasn’t supportive for staff to deliver therapeutic and high quality patient care.

“We know the investment required to make the wards habitable would be enormous. So further work on the wards is not feasible at this time. Although we have explored other options for keeping services in Ealing, there are currently no suitable alternative sites that also do not require significant investment. At West London NHS Trust, we have a track record of delivering capital estates projects, when the investment is made available, for example at Three Bridges and Broadmoor Hospital.

“Having led all of our recent engagement events on this topic – both online and in-person, I know that our staff and patients are frustrated and disappointed that this means adult acute inpatient mental health services cannot be provided in Ealing. We share this frustration and would support any campaign that aims to increase funding for mental health estates across the NHS. Alongside our chief executive Carolyn Regan and a number of colleagues from acute mental health services, I recently met with MP and health minister, Maria Caulfield, to discuss improving mental health provision and the facilities we provide care in.

“Whilst we will continue to look for opportunities for services to remain in Ealing, for now we need some certainty for our patients, service users and staff, around where they will be provided.

“There’s still time to have your say about our proposals for Ealing adult inpatient mental health services. You can read more on our website – and I really encourage you complete our survey.”

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