A PROPOSAL which would see Swindon mental health patients sent out of the area for assessment has been put forward by Avon & Wiltshire Mental Partnership NHS Foundation trust.

The changes would see the closure of place of safety facilities in Sandalwood Court Swindon and Fountain Hospital Salisbury with suites at Green Lane Hospital, Devizes, serving the entire county.

Under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act a person believed by the police to have a mental disorder, and who may cause harm to themselves or another can be taken to a place of safety where a mental health assessment can be carried out.

This means Swindon patients suffering from mental illness would face a 45-minute journey to Devizes and be far from friends and family.

AWP say Swindon’s place of safety site cannot stay open because there is insufficient space to expand, the cost of the building is too great and analysis of admissions showed that Green Lane is the busiest suite.

The consultation says Green Lane could be expanded and will improve the quality of care for service users, some of whom they claim have been left distressed by inappropriate care.

The trust also says due to delays service users have been detained in police custody suites, or A&E units which are not appropriate for assessment,

Ann Mooney, chairman of mental health charity Service User Network Swindon (SUNS) in Victoria Road, said: “I think it’s absolutely ludicrous.

"Being taken to a place of safety in your own area is stressful enough. Being taken away miles from family and friends is something that is harmful.

“The majority of the time family can’t even afford to get there especially if they rely on benefits to get somewhere. And by the time they get they may have to go back again.

“From my past experience I have been taken out of the area where my friends and family are and it was very scary and stressful not having that support.

"Swindon needs to keep a place of safety in the town and I think it is an utter joke that it is even being considered.”

Donna Lovell, chief executive at Swindon Mind, said: “We are disappointed to hear about the proposals to close the health-based place of safety in Swindon, and we, along with a number of service users, have written to Avon and Wiltshire Partnership Mental Health Trust expressing our concerns.

"We understand that alternative places of safety will be opened in Devizes, but it’s worrying that there will no longer be anywhere to take people in crisis in Swindon.

“When you’re in a mental health crisis, you’re at your most vulnerable, and it’s really important to have your friends and family near you. Being taken a 40-minute drive away is only going to make things worse, and could negatively impact on your recovery.

"Closing a health-based place of safety could also mean that people experiencing a mental health crisis are taken to a police cell instead, which is completely inappropriate.

"Being held in a cell and effectively treated like a criminal while waiting for an assessment only makes people more unwell.”

Andrew Dean, AWP director of nursing, said: “Assessing people in extreme distress as quickly as possible and in the most appropriate environment can have a positive impact on the speed and quality of their recovery.

"We therefore consider it incredibly important to provide assessments in a safe environment staffed by highly trained, highly skilled professionals.

“We also want to increase our Place of Safety capacity to minimise delays to assessment and to make it easier for our partners, primarily the police, to get people detained for assessment under Section 136 of the Mental Health act into an appropriate environment more quickly.”

Swindon Borough Council and Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group also raised concerns about the proposal at a July 2016 meeting but it has been backed by Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire CCG.

North Swindon MP Justin Tomlinson voiced his concerns about the proposal.

He said: "I am incredibly disappointed to hear that AWP intends to close Swindon’s place of safety. I was given no prior warning of this. 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 & physical health equally, it cannot be right that residents in need of urgent, specialist support will be asked to travel 40 minutes to Devizes.

"It is crucial that support is provided to the most vulnerable people in a place which is safe, welcoming and close to family & friends. I will be sharing my concerns about these proposals directly with AWP."

A spokesman for Healthwatch Swindon said: “We would like to hear from people about their experience of using the S136 suites in Swindon and their views on the proposed options.

“Residents can talk to Healthwatch Swindon by calling 01793 497777 or by emailing info@healthwatchswindon.org.uk

To make your views known email awp.placesofsafetyfeedback@nhs.net, complete the feedback form on the trust’s website, call 01249 468 261 or freephone: 0800 073 1778, write to Places of Safety Feedback Avon and Wiltshire Partnership Mental Health NHS Trust Jenner House Langley Park Estate Chippenham Wiltshire SN15 1GG or attend any of the consultation events in Swindon, Salisbury and Devizes.

Further details of the consultation events will be announced on the trust’s website. The deadline for opinions is April 30.