Swindon's MPs Write To Health Secretary & NHS England To Oppose Mental Health Place Of Safety Change

Swindon's MPs Justin Tomlinson & Robert Buckland have taken their concerns about plans to close the vital ‘Place of Safety’ suite at Sandalwood Court to the top, after writing directly to the Health Secretary & the Chief Executive of NHS England to oppose the change.

Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust has confirmed that it intends to go ahead with its proposal to centralise the critical service in Devizes, despite concerns being raised by key stakeholders including mental health charities, the Swindon NHS CCG and Swindon Borough Council.

When the initial proposals were announced, Justin and Robert expressed anger and disappointment that AWP had chosen to close this lifeline for individuals experiencing severe mental ill health; feelings shared by the large number of constituents who contacted both MPs to back their campaign to oppose the changes. In responding to the consultation, the MPs noted that closing the site at Sandalwood Court would mean people in need of support would be taken away from family and clinicians who know them.

Additionally, 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.

Yet in spite of the strong opposition, AWP has announced it will go ahead with proposals and Justin & Robert have wasted no time in raising their opposition to changes with the Health Secretary & the Chief Executive of NHS England.

Justin Tomlinson MP said: “Sandalwood Court is an important part of the expert, tailored support the NHS offers to people with a mental health condition and its ‘Place of Safety’ is essential to ensuring that the most vulnerable, at risk of harming themselves or others can access high quality care. AWP’s decision to close the ‘Place of Safety’ at Sandalwood Court and centralise the service at a single site in Devizes is appalling and without regard for those who need it. When a person is at their most vulnerable, they need to be able to be supported in a place which is welcoming and close to family & friends. By moving the Place of Safety to Devizes, people accessing this support will be transported almost 40 minutes away family and the clinicians who know them. I hope that the Health Secretary & the Chief Executive of NHS England will urgently look into this matter”.


Text of Justin & Robert’s letter to the Health Secretary:

Dear Jeremy,

We write to express our profound concerns following the outcome of an Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust consultation on changes to the provision of Places of Safety suites in Swindon & Wiltshire.

The Place of Safety at Sandalwood Court, a mainstay for the provision of expert, tailored, emergency mental health support in Swindon, will be closed in order to centralise services at a new centre in Wiltshire.

Requiring a Place of Safety is, by definition, an urgent matter and we are sure you will agree that it is crucial support is provided to the most vulnerable people in a place which is welcoming and close to family & friends. We know from our constituents who have required a Place of Safety just how vital they felt sites including Sandalwood Court were to their treatment and recovery.

As you are aware, 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.

Swindon accounts for almost a third of the health economy area covered by AWP. As the largest single conurbation in the Trust area, surely the town is a prime location for at least one Place of Safety bed.

Assessments are designed to be conducted in a way which allows the individual to feel most comfortable including, where possible, incorporating a clinician who is aware of any previous assessments. In removing the Place of Safety from Sandalwood Court, we fear AWP will 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.

AWP’s own data shows that more than one in four people seen under s.136 are then admitted to hospital. This change will likely result in people Swindon being transferred to Devizes to been seen at the Place of Safety, only to then be admitted and transferred back to Sandalwood Court.

In addition to this, there is a possibility that individuals detained under s.136 may need to be transported to a Place of Safety by police officers or ambulance staff. In moving an individual to the proposed Green Lane site, it is likely that on these occasions two Wiltshire Police officers or ambulance staff on duty in Swindon will have to transport the individual to Devizes and likely wait until an assessment has been carried out. This may prevent them from being able to continue frontline duties within the Borough.

Key local stakeholders, including specialist mental health charities, Swindon Borough Council, and Swindon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group have all expressed concerns about the impact this change will have on the delivery of emergency mental health support for our constituents.

We are also seriously concerned with the manner in which the consultation was conducted. Stakeholders were not given prior warning of this consultation, a fact which has caused great concern in Swindon, and as elected representatives we first learned of the plans through our local newspaper.

Of greater concern is the fact that AWP launched a consultation with four proposed options, three of which maintained the provision of a Place of Safety suite at Sandalwood Court, but chose to rule out these options within the body of the document that accompanied the exercise. It cannot be right that in seeking the views of key stakeholders and the public, AWP chose to actively advise against all of the options which would have maintained this vital service for our constituents.

As Swindon’s elected representatives, we would be grateful if you could ask officials to urgently look into the outcome of this consultation and assess whether these changes are consistent with the commitment made to patients in the NHS Constitution to ensure a comprehensive service to all and if it is in keeping with the commitments to deliver parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

We have copied this letter to Simon Stevens in his capacity as Chief Executive of NHS England. We are grateful for your time and we look forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards,

Justin Tomlinson MP                                                      Robert Buckland QC MP