Proposed new mental health facility in Bedford raises many questions

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A new £60m mental health provision planned for Bedford has been described as “strategically sound”, a meeting heard.

But extra facilities rather than replacement units would be preferable, a Central Bedfordshire councillor claimed.

Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group and East London Foundation NHS Trust (ELFT) want to establish a centre of excellence on the Bedford Health Village site.

Bedford Borough Council says it constitutes a significant service change, so is requesting a formal period of consultation.

The new unit would be part of a comprehensive mental health offer, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee.

Services would include:

  • NHS 111 24-hour mental health crisis support for all ages across Bedfordshire;
  • a Bedford mental health crisis café and 24-hour mental health assessment hubs, in the north and south of the county, providing walk-in crisis support;
  • the expanded Bedfordshire and Luton mental health recovery college;
  • Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service;
  • and the development of new neighbourhood mental health teams around primary care networks.

Conservative Ampthill councillor Paul Duckett said: “Strategically you’re spot on. It’s a shame it’s ‘instead of’, rather than ‘as well as’.

“But the current properties we’re using are wholly inappropriate.

“There are questions about capacity. Have you got enough space?

“It’s a growth area tragically, not a sector in decline. Covid is really starting to exacerbate an already simmering situation.

“What are your plans while this site is developed?” he asked.

Director of mental health and wellbeing services in Bedfordshire and Luton Michelle Bradley replied: “We still need to be compliant with the Care Quality Commission.

“We still have a maintenance programme to invest in around our estates provision.”

ELFT medical director Dr Dudley Manns explained a lot has been learnt “about what we can do remotely with virtual sessions, during this awful pandemic”.

The planned investment at Shires House in Bedford is likely to result in the closure of Townsend Court in Houghton Regis, and Oakley Court and Calnwood Court in Luton.

Liberal Democrat Houghton Hall councillor Susan Goodchild said: “From Houghton Regis to Bedford and then to the new provision isn’t easy.

She wondered how travel would be managed, saying: “People are really feeling challenged.”

Director of integrated care for ELFT Richard Fradgley said: “We recognise proposals may cause anxiety to some residents.

“We’ll be commissioning a transport survey so we understand the  impact on travel times.”

Independent Biggleswade South Councillor Hayley Whitaker asked: “What can we as a council do to improve public transport across the region, so everyone can make best use of this fantastic facility.

“I’m mindful mental health issues don’t arise 9am-5pm Monday to Friday when the bus services are running.”

Independent Tithe Farm Councillor Pat Hamill warned: “In Houghton Regis, the most deprived area of Bedfordshire we’re seeing a facility taken away.

“People don’t want to travel too far. They want families and friends close by.”

Mr Fradgley replied: “It doesn’t mean ELFT is withdrawing mental health services from Houghton Regis.”

Conservative Heath and Reach Councillor Mark Versallion, who chairs the committee, said: “Bedford isn’t always the easiest town to drive around.

“There must be a study on transport accessibility and travel times.”

The committee agreed it wants ELFT and the CCG to run a public consultation, while the travel and transport needs examining.