CAMPAIGNERS have slammed as “absolutely ridiculous” proposals to move a Swindon unit for those experiencing a mental health crisis.

The comments came as two dozen people met outside Stratton mental health hospital Sandalwood Court to protest moves to shut the hospital’s “place of safety” suite.

The Swindon unit is one of three sites in the county where those deemed to be a risk to themselves or others are taken for assessment by mental health professionals.

Under proposals by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health NHS Partnership Trust (AWP), two of these suites could be shut. If the proposed closure goes ahead patients would be taken to a place of safety at Green Lane Hospital in Devizes – a drive of at least 23 miles.

A public consultation on the plans closed in June.

A decision over the future of the Swindon site was due to be made at a meeting of the AWP’s board on Wednesday, but this has been delayed.

Samantha Wathen, of the Swindon branch of Keep our NHS Public, which organised Saturday’s protest, said: “AWP need to come to a decision – and come to the right one, which is to retain this facility.

“If service users can’t access this place of safety, they’re going to face an hour-and-a-half’s round trip to Devizes.

“They’ll be away from the people that they know, in a strange place and at busy times, because of the a distance, they may well be inappropriately detained in police custody.”

Samantha said that AWP’s consultation on the future of suite did not allow for a “fifth option” of relocating the place of safety suite to another NHS site, such as the Great Western Hospital.

“While Sandalwood may or may not be perfect, the point is we don’t want the place of safety going out of town,” she added.

Ann Mooney, chairman of patient support group Swindon SUNS, which is due to close, said: “This is not going to aid patients’ recovery. People need to see their loved ones. That’s the best medicine they can get.”

Jo Garton, 52, of Old Town, said: “Mental health problems affect one in four of us. It’s not somebody else’s problem. A place of safety is crucial.”

Ben Carter, 46, of Toothill, said: “Given the size of Swindon and the current population, it seems absolutely, completely and utterly ridiculous that people should have to travel to Devizes when they’re already in a dangerously fragile state.”

Retired forensic psychologist, Robert Forde, 68, of Old Town, said: “The effect of closing this place of safety will be that people who are in crisis will find it more difficult to get help.

“If you’re in an emergency state you need a supportive family and local community. You don’t need to be whisked away to somewhere where it’s not easy to get that support.”

Labour’s North Swindon parliamentary candidate Mark Dempsey said: “We’re here because we care about this facility and we care about the patients who will be using it.

“We’re also angry and worried about the overall situation our health service finds itself in. We need more investment into our National Health Service.”

Swindon MPs Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson have both spoken out against plans to close the place of safety suite. Robert Buckland said: “I do not feel that AWP is placing priority on one of its larger centres of population and need.”

Last month, Andrew Dean, AWP deputy chief executive and director of nursing and quality, said: “Following an extensive consultation on improving the provision and quality of Places of Safety suites, we recently published a paper on the consultation outcome.

“Since then the trust has noted a number of concerns raised and decided to review further comments from stakeholders. The board will formally consider the consultation outcome and trust.”

This weekend, AWP said that a decision over the place of safety suite's future would be delayed until at least October.

Chief executive Hayley Richards said: "The trust is working with CCGs, local partners and NHS England to answer additional questions received as part of the Place of Safety Consultation.

"A further update will be provided to the October trust board meeting."