Hundreds sign petition against planned closure of ‘vital’ woman’s mental health centre    

Foxley Lane Women's Centre. Pic: Matty Edwards

Foxley Lane Women’s Centre. Pic: Matty Edwards

Hundreds of people have protested over the closure of a woman’s mental health inpatient centre in Croydon.

As part of enforced cuts to the local NHS’s budget, Foxley Lane, a small ward in Purley for women experiencing a mental health crisis, is to be decommissioned.

The centre, which currently acts as a halfway house between an acute ward and home treatment, provides care for a relatively small number of women – just 55 women in 2015.

At an emotional public consultation meeting, former patients of Foxley Lane were furious about the closure of what they saw as a life-saving service.  Vicky Wilson-Undy said: “I was a patient in June, and if it wasn’t for Foxley Lane I wouldn’t be here having this conversation with you. It’s a valuable service and its criminal even considering closing it down.”

“It’s a safe environment, a caring, kind respite with beautiful gardens and beautiful staff. After Foxley Lane I felt like I was a new person, that I’d discovered myself.”

One husband of a former patient said: “Foxley Lane has had a very positive impact on my wife. Whatever savings you people want to make, think about how you’d feel if it was a member of your family using that service and the positive things that come from it.”

“You wouldn’t even consider cutting that service. It’s a vital service and saved my wife’s life on many occasions,” he said.

Mental Health Panel. Pic: Niels Sondergaard

Mental Health Panel. Pic: Niels Sondergaard

A range of community mental health services, including Croydon Home Treatment Team, will be replacing the centre.

The proposed closure would save Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group over £500,000 a year, as part of £18.4 million’s worth of cuts imposed by NHS England earlier this year.

“It’s a safe environment, a caring, kind respite with beautiful gardens and beautiful staff. After Foxley Lane I felt like I was a new person, that I’d discovered myself.” – former service user, Vicky Wilson-Undy.

Dr Hugh Jones, Clinical Director, South London and Maudsley SLAM NHS Foundation Trust said: “It was a very innovative service set up with a lot of careful thought and planning. However, the way it’s been used has changed, which reflects changing circumstances in Croydon.”

“In the financial reality we are in, Foxley Lane is no longer value for money for the NHS given the limited resources.”

Dr Tony Brzezicki, Clinical Chair of NHS Croydon CCG said: “This proposal is about making sure that people in Croydon receive the right care, in the right place at the right time for the money that is available.”

“There is a significant shortage of skilled staff and we need to use them wisely. A large team managing 55 patients is difficult to justify when we don’t have the resources.”

Suggestions and concerns expressed at the meeting will be written up as a report and presented to the decision makers in January. However the tone of the meeting suggested that the closure was highly likely, despite a petition with over 700 signatures.

A review in 2014 concluded that greater investment in early intervention, prevention and crisis care would be welcomed to divert people away from inpatient services. Over the last two years, Croydon CCG has invested more than £9 million accordingly.

Some members of the public felt reassured after hearing about the alternatives to Foxley Lane, including improved home treatment, a new 24-hour crisis line, a new acute female ward to open in 2017, and women’s refuge centres set up by charities.

The Home Treatment Team, which works 8am-10pm every day of the year, has been expanded into an intensive, high-volume service. Collaborations between the CCG, SLAM and Croydon Council provide support in relation to housing arrangements for those whose home environment isn’t appropriate for treatment.

A particular concern brought up was the current female acute ward at the Royal Bethlam, Gresham 1. Former patients spoke of “violence and bullying” from fellow patients and even staff.  Wilson-Undy said she had her rib broken by a patient on the ward and had been punched on the nose by a nurse.

Nuru, a 24-year-old charity worker, said: “I’ve been in Gresham 1 and I know what a horrible place it can be. It’s universally hated in Croydon.”

SLAM said they are working on a specific quality improvement project for the ward, and intended to increase staffing levels.

A new female acute ward at Royal Bethlam is to be opened in 2017, which will be smaller than Gresham 1.

Positive aspects of Foxley Lane are to be built into the new ward and the changes to current wards, including staff and garden areas.

Charity Women’s Aid has just opened a refuge centre for women in the area, and will open another in January 2017. Although there may not be specialists in house mental health professionals, the HTT would be able to visit.

After hearing this news, one audience member said: “I came here ready for war, but now I’m thinking this is going to be alright.”

The final decision about the future of Foxley Lane will be made on January 17.

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