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Hospital closure threat comes at ‘very bad time’

Mental health patients are moved out of town, as demand for treatment soars amid the coronavirus crisis

23 October, 2020 — By Tom Foot

NHS chiefs are moving to shut a 60-bed hospital for mental health patients despite the demand rocketing during the pandemic.

The Gordon Hospital in Pimlico was temporarily closed in March following “serious concerns” about the potential spread of Covid-19 infection and also so staff could cover for isolating colleagues elsewhere.

Westminster patients have instead been sent “out of area” and in one case as far away as Bolton because of a chronic shortage of acute beds.

But now the hospital closure is to be made permanent despite the lockdown leading to more complex diagnoses and the need for inpatient facilities.

There are concerns across the National Health Service that the pandemic is being used to justify managers’ long-held cut-back goals.

A report warned that “…60 beds were taken out of the system” at a time when there was “increased demand due to more complex patients presenting at A&E requiring admission”, adding: “The service is now experiencing pre-Covid demand with a lower bed base.”

The pandemic has brought isolation, unemployment, homelessness and lack of access to services that is causing more complex mental health admissions, particularly the onset of psychosis.

Since the closure, 242 patients have instead been admitted to St Charles in Ladbroke Grove but there are concerns that the hospital can cope with a surge in demand. At least 100 of these patients have been placed outside Westminster and in some cases hundreds of miles away from home.

At a scrutiny council meeting about the closure on Tuesday, Cllr Nafsika Butler-Thalassis said: “This is a very bad time to be decreasing hospital beds, especially when we know people’s mental health is suffering. I’m extremely concerned about this.”

A director at Central North West London, the unelected body that decides what NHS services get funding in Westminster, told the meeting the closure came in a context of huge transformation of services aimed at “bringing care closer to home”, adding: “There were real concerns over cross-infection and this led to the closure of the Gordon and the discharge of many patients.”

The hospital building had been allowed to deteriorate so that it is “not fit for purpose” and would require a £25million investment, the report added. It gave examples of a new 24/7 assessment service and various “hubs” and strategies aimed at providing “an alternative to admission”.

Cities of London and Westminster MP Nickie Aiken raised concerns about her constituents’ mental health problems in the House of Commons this week, warning that restrictions and further isolation was pushing more and more people to the brink of breakdowns.

A public consultation “exploring the option to not reopen the site” is due to be launched early next year. But this is likely to have no effect on an already decided outcome. At the last board meeting of CNWL, a report said Gordon Hospital staff were already finalising “permanent redeployment”.

CNWL, in its report to the council’s adult and young people scrutiny committee, said: “We recognise that an essential part of providing good quality mental health care is also to facilitate timely access to modern inpatient services when community alternatives are not possible, preferably as close to home as possible.

“Without in anyway predetermining the outcome of the proposed consultation, we are exploring planning to consider development of a potential alternative inpatient site within Westminster.”

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