CONCERNS over the decision to close the Place of Safety facility at Sandalwood Court in Stratton have been escalated to the highest levels of government.

Swindon MPs Justin Tomlinson and Robert Buckland have written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to express their disappointment at the decision reached by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust (AWP).

A Place of Safety is used in the event that a person is experiencing a mental health crisis so serious that the police deem them to be a threat, either to their own life or to the lives of others.

Earlier this year, AWP put forward plans to close the facilities in Swindon and Salisbury in order to consolidate their resources in Devizes.

The proposals were met with opposition from Swindon’s politicians, the council, the Clinical Commissioning Group and mental health charities. Only Wiltshire Police and AWP themselves expressed support.

Earlier this week, the trust confirmed that the closure of Sandalwood Court’s Place of Safety would go ahead despite local objections.

In their letter, Mr Tomlinson and Mr Buckland relayed their “profound concerns” to the Health Secretary.

“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 and friends,” they wrote.

“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 and 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.”

Swindon Borough Council has also come out in opposition to the closure.

Brian Ford, the cabinet member responsible for adult social care, said: “We were very disappointed to learn of the response by AWP to the consultation to close the Place of Safety at Sandalwood Court.

“There are a considerable number of drawbacks associated with the decision for vulnerable adults and children under 18 to go to Devizes instead of receiving a service locally.

“I am particularly concerned about the impact on their wellbeing and the lack of consideration of the views of those who are affected by these changes.

“We will be making formal representation to AWP over the manner in which this consultation was conducted, since we would have expected a stronger partnership approach during the consultation process, with greater account taken of the views we expressed as regards the needs of some of Swindon’s most vulnerable residents.”

Fionuala Foley, the cabinet member for children’s services and school attainment, added: "It is disappointing that our response to the consultation has not been reflected and in particular the detrimental effect on young people that will ensue."

Standing alone in support of the decision to close the Place of Safety at Sandalwood Court are Wiltshire Police, an organisation that will be impacted directly with dedicated Swindon resources having to make the additional journey to Devizes and not being available in the town they police.

But Angus Macpherson, Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, said: “I support the decision by the Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust to focus on one dedicated unit located centrally in Devizes.

"If this will provide a better and more resilient service, and the experts tell us it will, it is the right decision for patients and their families.

“Green Lane in Devizes is the most sensible choice for a Place of Safety service because it receives the highest number of patients of the three current sites.

“Having one place of safety with dedicated and trained staff should mean a facility that is able safely to manage patients who display more challenging behaviour around the clock, leading to fewer going into police custody.

“A change in the law means police custody should only be used in truly exceptional cases. I’ve been advised that the new place of safety would lead to police cells being used only very rarely for those detained under Section 136.

“The extra travelling time from Swindon or Salisbury must be outweighed by the improved service patients in crisis receive. It is important to bear in mind that a Place of Safety is designed for urgent assessments, after which people would be returned to their home area as soon as possible.”