Mental health unit could move out of Welwyn Garden City hospital

PLANS to move mental health provision out of WGC and into a remote new unit in London Colney have been branded “a return to the days of the lunatic asylum”.

New proposals by the Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT) to close the inpatient facility at the QE2 Hospital and build a unit on an 11 acre site in Harperbury have met with opposition from parents and carers, who fear the scheme would bring back the stigma associated with mental health problems.

And they have blasted NHS bosses for leaving it until the last minute to tell parents and service users of the plans, which need to be agreed by December 17 in order to buy the land from the Department of Health.

The proposals, entitled Investing in Your Mental Health, were originally agreed in 2006, and envisaged three new-build inpatient units including one at the QE2 Hospital. But HPFT now says it has to improve facilities sooner than the original timescale of 2017, and has identified Harperbury for development of a 64-bed unit, to be completed by 2012.

But parents of mental health patients say the plans bring back memories of institutionalisation, as it is located away from local communities and without public transport links.

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Keith Tipping, whose son is a service user at the current facility in WGC, said: “It’s a return to the days of the lunatic asylum.

“Mentally ill people lose a lot of what they have learned in life, they need to be taken out into the community – it’s terribly important for them.”

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Lynn Burling, whose son also suffers from mental health problems, said: “I am concerned that the lack of detail, and the push for a decision regarding the purchase of the Harperbury land, will lead to unknown detrimental consequences in the years ahead.”

A spokesman for HPFT said: “This proposal would see a new, state-of-the-art inpatient unit at Harperbury, and four other units being refurbished at St Albans, Stevenage, Hertford and Hemel Hempstead.

“We recognise that our current inpatient units need to be updated but existing proposals would mean that the QE2 unit could not be improved until 2017 at the earliest.

“Service users and their carers have told us they cannot wait seven years for these facilities; we currently occupy parts of the Harperbury site, and no other site could be redeveloped so quickly.”

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