NHS plans to close hospital could leave one borough with no mental health beds

A council is urgently calling for more acute mental health beds after proposed NHS plans to permanently close a hospital could leave the borough without a single bed.

Westminster council is “concerned” over potential plans to permanently close the Gordon Hospital in Bloomburg Street, Pimlico, forcing patients with severe mental health issues to travel miles for residential care.  

The hospital’s 51 inpatient beds have been unavailable since the facility was temporarily closed during the pandemic, in March 2020.

The closure aimed to keep patients and staff safe amid the rapid spread of the virus but has still not reopened nearly four years later.

An NHS consultation – which closes in January 2024 – has set out three options for the future of acute mental health provision in the borough, including a proposal to permanently close the hospital and cut acute mental health bed provision from 51 to zero. 

The consultation comes as demand for acute mental health beds is soaring across Westminster. 

According to the council, there were 777 referrals in Westminster between 2022 and 2023 – 103 more than the year before.

Data from the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust (CNWL) also shows that between June and August, 106 of the 500 Mental Health Act admissions within its network were patients from Westminster.

Health Watch, the independent patient watchdog, released a report assessing the community’s views on the need for mental health services, after the consultation began last month.

In the report, Westminster mental health patients describe themselves as feeling like “parcels” being sent from hospital to hospital for treatment, often waiting between six and eight days for beds.

Councillor Nafsika Butler-Thalassis, Westminster council’s cabinet member for adult social care, public health and voluntary sector, has called on the NHS to keep acute mental beds in the local community.

She said: “Westminster is an area with one of the highest rates of mental health crisis in the country, and it defies common sense that we may end up with no local acute beds for a resident population of more than 200,000.

“Nobody disputes that community care is valuable, but it is unacceptable to pursue this route at the expense of acute beds.  

“The reality is that people with fragile mental health who need a bed could be forced to travel long distances to get one. 

“I urge people to make their views known in the consultation and for NHS managers to think hard about the best services for local people.

 “We need to keep acute mental health beds alongside effective community support and intervention. 

“For treatment to be effective and for people to get better, they need the support of their family, friends and local networks. We think that works best by having the appropriate amount of acute mental health beds in the city.”

From the three options offered by the NHS in the consultation, the council has said the closest proposal to its view is option one, which would see Gordon Hospital’s 51 beds re-open.

But, NHS North West London Integrated Care Board (NWL ICB) and CNWL said that taking this option may lead to some community and crisis services developed since March 2020, being reduced or stopped.

A spokesman for NHS North West London said:“Following the temporary closure of the Gordon wards during the pandemic, significant investment was made in the development of community mental health services and more money is now being spent on mental health care for residents of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea – including for patients with acute needs.

“We believe that the 777 figure refers to all people that have been assessed by Westminster City Council as requiring detention under the Mental Health Act. This includes people who do not live in Westminster – who would not have been admitted to beds at the Gordon.

“We find beds for everyone who requires one – and the number of Westminster adults requiring a bed has fallen from 441 between 2019 and 2020 to 314 between 2022 and 2023. We had an increase of 16 adults needing a bed last year, which is well within manageable rates.

“National guidance and best clinical practice indicate that many people recover faster if treated in the community, rather than in institutional settings. If we re-open the wards, we would need to close of many of the new community services which have been developed since the pandemic, as there is not enough money or the staff available to provide both.

“No decisions have yet been made.”

Pictured top: Gordon Hospital, Councillor Nafsika Butler-Thalassis (Picture: Westminster council)

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