Belfast Telegraph

Impasse stalling replacement of decrepit mental health unit: MLA

By Allan Preston

A Victorian era mental health hospital in Antrim that a health trust has deemed no longer fit for purpose must be replaced, an MLA has urged.

Ulster Unionist Roy Beggs made the comments after visiting Holywell Hospital, a large mental health facility built in 1898.

The 140-acre site for acute and inpatient mental health services has 149 beds and is divided into two main services.

The main buildings house the addictions unit, continuing care, challenging behaviour, rehabilitation and intensive care beds, while the detached buildings are used for acute admission and dementia assessment.

One constituent who contacted Mr Beggs after being denied a place in Holywell due to a lack of beds said there was a stark difference in quality when he was temporarily placed at the Bluestone unit in Craigavon.

"I recently visited staff and patients at Holywell Hospital's dedicated dementia assessment unit located within the hospital's Victorian building," said Mr Beggs.

"My constituent had also highlighted the need for improved personal space at the Tobernaveen facilities to aid recovery.

"During my visit the staff acknowledged that there was a need for improved personal space, common rooms and treatment facilities. Better designed facilities also lessen the likelihood of a patient's exposure to stressful traumatic events involving others."

He said health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority had acknowledged good practice and care at the site, but had written to the Department of Health expressing concerns regarding parts of Holywell's dated design, which did not fit modern standards.

"Maintaining the ageing, listed building and its infrastructure is expensive. In addition, the preferred option of a new-build facility close to the main Antrim Hospital site will improve access to wider health care for patients and reduce travel and supervision costs," Mr Beggs added.

The MLA said a case for capital investment had completed the assessment process within the Northern Health Trust and Health and Social Care Board, and needed approval from a Health Minister.

Mr Beggs said he had written to the department's permanent secretary.

And he added: "I hope that mental health patients are not suffering as a result of the refusal of Sinn Fein to enable the Executive to be re-established and to allow this important investment decision to be made."

In response, the Northern Health Trust told the Belfast Telegraph: "The trust acknowledged, at that time, that the physical condition and functional suitability of Holywell Hospital was not fit for purpose.

"It was proposed that a purpose designed unit built to modern standards would be necessary to meet patient needs.

"The outcome of the public consultation was support for the proposal for a new unit to be located on the Antrim Area Hospital site."

The trust has since submitted a business case to the Department of Health for the new unit, seeking an allocation of capital funding.

It added: "This is currently under discussion with the Department of Health, alongside the other capital priorities for the Northern Trust for the next budget period."

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