Swindon MPs Appeal Directly To AWP Board To Stop Sandalwood Court Place Of Safety Closure

Swindon’s Members of Parliament, Justin Tomlinson & Robert Buckland, have appealed directly to members of Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership’s Board to scrap plans to close Sandalwood Court’s Place of Safety.

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.

Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust confirmed earlier this year that it intends to close the site at Sandalwood Court and centralise the critical service at a new site in Devizes, meaning those in need of urgent health support will be taken more than 40 minutes from Swindon. 

The move was announced in spite of concerns being raised by key stakeholders including mental health charities, the Swindon NHS CCG and Swindon Borough Council.

Both MPs have consistently & actively opposed the proposal on the grounds that it would harm, rather than improve, access to mental health support for vulnerable Swindon residents.

Writing in response to the original consultation in March, the pair noted: “Requiring a Place of Safety is, by definition, an urgent matter and in addition it is crucial that support is provided to the most vulnerable people in a place which is welcoming and close to family & friends… In removing the Place of Safety from Sandalwood Court, we fear you may inadvertently remove an individual’s access to a clinician they may know and trust, seriously harming that individual’s chance of receiving the most accurate assessment and most appropriate tailored support.”

Last month the MPs took their concerns to the top, penning letters to the Health Secretary and the Chief Executive of NHS England, calling for th planned changes to be axed as they failed to meeting the obligation to deliver parity of esteem between physical and mental health. 

The response from AWP was to temporarily pause the changes, and refer the plans to its Trust Board.

The town’s MPs have now written directly the AWP Board calling on them to stop the proposed changes; re-asserting their opposition to the new proposed model, and raising fresh concerns that the proposal would be in breach of the NHS Mandate.

The Mandate sets out that any proposed significant change to clinical services must demonstrate it is supported by clinicians & patients, have a strong evidence-base, and improve access to treatment.

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 MPs argue that this, in conjunction with the opposition of clinicians, patients & stakeholders, as well as the poorly managed consultation which effectively ruled-out all other options, should see the proposals thrown out and Sandalwood’s Place of Safety suite remain open.

A final decision on the future of Sandalwood Court’s Place of Safety suite was expected at a meeting of AWP’s Trust Board on Wednesday, but is not now expected until late October following a decision to further delay announcing the final outcome of the consultation in light of the new concerns raised. 

Justin Tomlinson MP said: “Sandalwood Court’s Place of Safety suite is essential to ensuring we can provide high-quality, tailored emergency mental health support to vulnerable people in an environment which is safe and close to family. 

If the Board chooses to back the proposal it will be making it harder, not easier, for our constituents to access that tailored emergency support. The Board is not being asked to support this change in order to save money; this is not a financial decision but a straight clinical choice – to provide local tailored support, or centralise services miles away from vital family support networks. 

I know from conversations with clinicians and patients that this proposal, if approved, will have a hugely negative effect for those who access this vital service and that is why I am appealing directly to AWP’s Board to scrap this short-sighted plan.”

Robert Buckland QC MP said: “One in four people suffer from mental ill health each year and, at a time when the Prime Minister has rightly said we need to ensure we treat both mental & physical health equally, it cannot be right that residents in need of urgent, specialist support will be asked to travel 40 minutes to Devizes.

Justin and I have been completely opposed to this change from the very beginning. The decision to delay making an announcement is welcome, but is causing concern for patients, clinicians & stakeholders who, like me, oppose closing the Sandalwood site.

Our concerns that this proposal may also be in breach of the NHS Mandate join the long list of reasons why AWP should now abandon their proposals entirely and commit to a permanent Place of Safety suite at Sandalwood Court”.