Rishi Sunak seeks more assurances about planned mental health service changes

Health chiefs have provided details of the new community health services that would replace wards at the Friarage Hospital, if a proposed re-organisation goes ahead.

In response to a letter from Richmond MP Rishi Sunak, the chief executive of the health trust which provides mental health services in the area, spells out how many additional staff there will be and the extra services provided under the plan.

Mr Sunak had written to Colin Martin of the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust seeking clarity and assurances about the proposals which have suggested that two hospital wards would close but more treatment be provided to patients in their homes.

Mr Sunak pressed Mr Martin to outline in detail specifically what aspects of the mental health service for residents would improve as part of these proposals in the event the wards were closed, so that he could hold the Trust to account for delivering these outcomes.

In his response Mr Martin says:

  • The number of community mental health staff in Hambleton and Richmondshire will increase by 12.
  • The hours they operate will be extended from 9am-5pm Monday-to Friday currently to 7pm on weekdays and 9am-5pm on Saturdays with the aim of extending hours further to 8am-8pm seven days a week.
  • Increase access to specialist therapies in the evenings and at weekends through the extra hours worked.
  • The trust will develop intensive home support for elderly patients and families and improving the service offered to local care homes.
  • A new £5m mental health resource centre will be built at the Friarage Hospital to provide purpose-built facilities for patients and staff, ultimately open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
  • Average travel distances for patients and their families will decrease if there are options of being admitted to either Darlington West Park or Middlesbrough's Roseberry Park in place of the Friarage.

In addition, Mr Martin responded to Mr Sunak’s concerns about the timing of any ward closures coming before improvements to other services. Mr Martin has said he recognises the importance of making sure that new services are established before the inpatient beds at the Friarage are withdrawn.

Mr Sunak said: "I am grateful to Mr Martin for providing the additional information about the proposed changes.

"Although there is a case that treating patients with mental health issues at home or very close to home can be more effective than on hospital wards, we need to be sure the support networks are in place and functioning efficiently.

"Also, the trust plans are based on a substantial reduction in inpatient admissions. This has happened elsewhere in the trust's area of operations but I am seeking further assurances about how this new model of care will reduce those admissions."

Mr Sunak added that he was seeking additional clarity on the methodology used to calculate travel distances for the majority of patients who would be affected by the changes, and specifically whether or not Auckland Park Hospital, Bishop Auckland, is included in the Trust’s calculations of the distances that would be travelled by inpatients and relatives/carers.

A consultation exercise on the proposals – which included three options - closed earlier this month.