Health bosses have warned it could be five years before they can replace a mental health unit which has been declared unsafe, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
They have stressed that the current design of Holywell Hospital in Antrim, where some of the most
vulnerable people in Northern Ireland are treated, means there is a risk that patients could harm themselves.
However, the Northern Health & Social Care Trust needs up to £52m to fund the design and construction of a new building and said the future of the project is dependent on the money coming from the cash-strapped Department of Health.
As an alternative, the trust has not ruled out the possibility of funding the build using the controversial Private Financial Initiative (PFI) plan, meaning a private company would pay for the construction and rent the building back to the health service.
It comes just weeks after the Belfast Telegraph featured photographs of the interior of the facility revealing the shocking state of disrepair of the unit which treats people with dementia and other serious psychiatric conditions.
The trust board is due to discuss the matter at its meeting today but a briefing paper reveals the timescale for the project means it will be 2017 at the earliest before it is complete.
The document said: “Holywell Hospital buildings continue to deteriorate until approval for this scheme is obtained meaning that services continue to be provided from a building that is approximately 110 years old, is not fit for purpose, does not provide a suitable environment for patients and staff and does not meet statutory standards.”
It continued: “Overall the accommodation of patients within a large Victorian asylum building is incompatible with providing mental health care within a non-stigmatising and therapeutic environment and is by definition wholly unacceptable for 21st century service provision.
“It is impossible within the existing construction of buildings to ensure best design practice in critical areas of patient safety.”
Results of an examination of the hospital by the trust found the physical condition of the building is “becoming largely untenable” and “contains serious inherent risks to life”, it has also emerged in an answer to an Assembly question earlier this month.
A department spokeswoman said: “As part of the ongoing review of capital priorities the need for a replacement facility has been identified.”