Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 18th August 2017

Like many people here in Swindon, I am dismayed by plans to close the Place of Safety facility at Sandalwood Court. When Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust first announced the proposal as part of a consultation back in March, I wrote to the Trust to make my concerns fully known and to argue against the move. I also encouraged other local residents to have their say and attended a public meeting to voice my objections during the consultation period. My feelings were shared by a large number of constituents who contacted me to back the campaign to oppose the changes.

I was therefore extremely disappointed when Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust announced last week that they planned to go ahead with the plan. I have written a joint letter along with North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson to the Health Secretary and the Chief Executive of NHS England to oppose the change.

Whilst I was very pleased by new Government legislation that now prevents police stations from being used as places of safety for people with mental health conditions, I don’t think that moving the facility away from a large and growing population centre like Swindon is the right move for patients living here who are experiencing mental health problems. To be taken to a place of safety by police can be an extremely distressing and frightening experience. In addition, to be taken away from family and friends and driven to Devizes would cause further distress for the person suffering and his or her family and friends. According to AWP’s own data, one in four people accessing a Place of Safety subsequently require specialist hospital treatment, meaning it is likely they will be transferred back to Swindon and in most cases to Sandalwood Court.

The Conservative Government is committed to transforming mental health services and has recently pledged £1.3 billion so that an extra one million patients can be treated by 2021, dramatically increasing the number of trained nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, peer support workers and other mental health professionals. It is vital that we retain the provision of expert, tailored, emergency mental health support locally as part of these plans.

I welcomed the Health Secretary’s announcement last week that 500 extra medical school places will be made available next year, boosting student doctor numbers. Not only is this the biggest ever expansion to the number of doctor training places, but it is also one of the most inclusive; ensuring everyone has the chance to study medicine regardless of their background and ensuring the NHS is equipped for the future with doctors serving in the areas that need them the most.

In my role as Solicitor General, I announced last week that people found guilty of encouraging terrorism, sharing terrorist propaganda and other terror related offences could see their sentences increased if victims or the public think the punishment is too soft. I am glad that the Unduly Lenient Sentence (ULS) scheme – which allows victims of crime and the public to query the sentences handed out by the courts now includes an increased range of terror-related offences.

Finally, I am looking forward to attending the Wanborough Summer Show and Carnival this coming Saturday. The show is run by a committee of dedicated volunteers and is in its 86th year. Highlights this year include pet shows, games, a mountain bike stunt team, food, drinks, puppet show and circus skills workshops. You can find out further details by visiting