AN independent expert has advised national NHS chiefs to shut down Calderstones Hospital.
Sir Stephen Bubb, who was asked by NHS England to review services for patients with learning disabilities or autism, has told health chiefs to close ‘large institutions’ like the Whalley-based hospital and move patients into smaller units or community-based care instead.
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Sir Stephen, who heads up the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said: “The Bubb report was clear - large institutions caring for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism should close, and local community care should be found as an alternative. This includes institutions such as Calderstones Hospital.”
And he wrote in his blog: “Why do we tolerate the existing system for people with learning disabilities? I made a clear recommendation on closure. It’s good to see NHS England are to implement it.”
Senior figures at NHS England are due to discuss the issues raised in Sir Stephen’s report, titled ‘Winterbourne View - Time for a Change’, during a board meeting this morning, but it refused to comment on the Calderstones situation this week, when asked to confirm or deny rumours about any planned closure.
However bosses at the organisation, the hospital’s largest provider of funding, have previously said they are ‘committed to implementing the recommendations’.
Leaders at Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Mitton Road facility, said they had ‘no knowledge’ of any intended closure, and questioned whether the recommendations were appropriate for patients in secure units.
The threat comes after the trust was strongly criticised in a shocking report by the official health watchdog last month.
Inspectors from the Care Quality Commission found ‘serious deficiencies in the quality of care’, including excessive use of face-down restraint, poor staffing levels and too many patients being subjected to seclusion and segregation methods.
More than half the 220 patients at Whalley are held in secure units, with many having been referred from the courts and prisons for offences including rape, murder and violence. Some also suffer from mental illnesses including severe schizophrenia and psychosis.
Calderstones Partnership received £28 million from NHS England in 2013/14, which was nearly half its operating income of £64 million.
But a spokesman for Calderstones said: “We would like to reassure those we support that the trust has no knowledge of any closure programme affecting secure forensic learning disability services.
“We can confirm that we have had no conversations which give credence to this debate. Our first concern is the anxiety of a significant number of very vulnerable people, as well as their carers, families and our staff.”
East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, which also provides funding for Calderstones, said: “We are actively working with the trust to ensure that patients who can live independently in the community with support, are able to do so. “We are not aware of any plans to close the trust at all, however we are monitoring the situation very closely, noting that the trust is nationally recognised as a specialist forensic learning disability service”.
Calderstones Hospital opened in 1915 and was initially used as a military facility before reverting to its intended use as a mental asylum. It went on to house about 3,000 people in the 1970s, before being scaled back as standards of care were modernised.
The trust also has sites in Lancaster and Rochdale and employs more than 1,100 people, many from across East Lancashire.
Ribble Valley MP, Nigel Evans, said: “There is always going to be a need for secure units, so I don’t see how every patient can be released into the community quite frankly.
“And I don’t really see the benefit of moving patients to smaller units around the country, as I’d still say there’s a need for big and more centralised institutions so that economies of scale kick in. My belief is that Calderstones is essential.”
Whalley councillor Terry Hill said: “There have been concerns historically about patients ‘getting out’ of the site, but I don’t think there have been any issues for a while. I wouldn’t say Calderstones is an asset to the village, it’s just been there for many many years. Undoubtedly it would have a big impact were it to close, as they employ a lot of people, but my main concern is where would the patients go?”
Sir Stephen’s report was commissioned after the Winterbourne View scandal, in which BBC Panorama exposed serious abuse against patients at the private hospital near Bristol.
The trust also has sites in Lancaster and Rochdale and employs more than 1,100 people.