I was dismayed to see that the decision to close the Place of Safety at Sandalwood Court had been confirmed.
The plans were initially proposed by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) earlier this year and in response I wrote a lengthy letter to AWP outlining why this would be a bad decision.
The Place of Safety, which is a specialist suite within Sandalwood Court, offers a space for those with serious mental health conditions who pose a risk to themselves or others around them and are detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. An individual who does pose such a risk can be taken to the Place of Safety by the Police where they can then receive emergency mental health support.
To be clear, this is not a decision based on lack of funding, nor is it a decision that has been made by politicians. The decision by AWP has been taken to the Place of Safety in Swindon, and another site in Salisbury, in order to have just one Place of Safety in the county. The decision has been made as this will allow the AWP to increase capacity in its one centralised Place of Safety.
Whilst we would all like to see more capacity, I am very concerned about the additional consequences of this decision.
Firstly is the impact on our police officers. It is often the case that officers detain people under s.136 and therefore have to take them to the Place of Safety. Without a facility in Swindon, this will mean officers driving back and forth from Devizes, taking away time which can be spent on duty in Swindon.
Secondly, AWP’s own data shows that more than one in four people seen under s.136 are then admitted to hospital. This change will likely now result in people Swindon being transferred to Devizes to been seen at the Place of Safety, only to then be admitted and transferred back to Sandalwood Court. This does not make sense.
More widely, the Government’s reforms to mental health policy are so important and it is right that we make this a priority. Progress is being made with more Government investment £1 billion extra into mental health and an estimated 1,400 more people accessing mental health services every day compared to 2010 – up 40%, as well as around 750,000 more people accessing talking therapies since 2009/10. In addition to the £1 billion extra we are also investing a further £1.25 billion for perinatal and children and young people’s mental health.
At a time when rightly the Government is focusing on ensuring that we treat both mental and physical health equally, and when we are spending an extra £1 billion on mental health, it cannot be right that residents in need of urgent, specialist support will be asked to travel 40 minutes to Devizes; away from an environment they know, away from family & friends, and away from clinicians who may know them.
I have written to both Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, and Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, to explain my concerns regarding the local decision made by AWP as well as the way in which AWP handled the consultation, where many felt as if the decision had already been taken. Whilst they have no power to overturn the decision, we don’t want to leave any stone unturned.