A SWINDON mental health suite will be closed for a year, it has been revealed.

The place of safety suite at Sandalwood Court, where people in the midst of a mental health crisis can be taken, will close temporarily later this year. Detainees will be taken to the closest suite in Devizes.

Campaigners have criticised the temporary closures as “disappointing”.

The moves follow rule changes that has cuts the time someone can be held under Section 135/6 of the Mental Health Act from 72 hours to 24 – adding pressure on skilled staff to see detainees faster. 

Last year, watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) identified problems in the quality of care at the place of safety suites - warning of limited access to qualified mental health doctors.

Last year saw a controversial consultation held over the future of three Wiltshire place of safety suites – managed by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP). They proposed moving services from Swindon and Salisbury hospitals to an enlarged suite at Devizes’ Green Lane Hospital.

A decision on the future of the suites was delayed, while NHS England considered the plans.

The temporary closure, which was agreed in letters between NHS England, Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Wiltshire CCG, was revealed in a Wiltshire Council health select committee this week.

Newlands Anning, AWP’s Swindon boss, told the council meeting: “I was coming to this meeting today to put a statement to say both Swindon and Wiltshire CCG were working together with NHS England to look at a way forward and they may propose a temporary closure of the Swindon Place of Safety and the Salisbury Place of Safety.

“However, that hadn’t been agreed prior to me attending this meeting.

“Since being sat at the back, there’s been a correspondence between NHS England with Swindon CCG that’s now been corresponded through to the chief executive of this council [Wiltshire] to state that the temporary closure has been agreed and will be received.”

He said that a public consultation over the future of the services would need to be re-run.

“There will be public engagement events, talking about the timeline of when we’re looking and what we need to do logistically to work towards those closures,” Mr Anning said.

AWP later clarified that it would be for Swindon and Wiltshire councils to determine the level of "public engagement" required.

In a statement, Swindon CCG said that Sandalwood Court's place of safety suite would be closed for 12 months. 

A spokeswoman blamed the closure on "quality issues" identified in the CQC report. 

She said: “NHS England has authorised the temporary consolidation of two of three Health Based Places of Safety (HBPoS) Suites in Swindon and Salisbury to a third site in Devizes in Wiltshire for 12 months.

"This will provide an opportunity to address the CQC improvement requirements, particularly around assessment times.

"A key element of this will be to support the delivery of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 that amended the Mental Health Act to reduce the maximum period someone can be detained on a Section 135/6 from 72 to 24 hours.

“During the period of temporary reallocation, engagement will be undertaken with the populations of Swindon and Wiltshire and individuals using the service. This will then lead to recommendations to NHS England and NHS Improvement.

“Longer term arrangements in relation to these HSPoS suites will be subject to an NHS England assurance process.”

Politicians and campaigners have criticised the proposed closure.

Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon, previously expressed opposition to the proposed closure. He said today: “I’m still confused and concerned about how this new arrangement is to be funded and if there isn’t agreement, why this temporary closure is going ahead.”

Sarah Church, prospective Labour candidate for South Swindon, branded the temporary closures “ill advised” and “really disappointing”: “People who are in that situation require support from their nearest and dearest.”

She warned that the place of safety temporary closure would see more people assessed in "inappropriate settings".

Ann Mooney, a mental health service user and campaigner, said: “It’s going to have a great impact on service users. It’s not going to aid recovery. And the impact it’s going to have on carers is just astronomical.

“I spoke to one lady, who said, ‘When I’m psychotic, I’m paranoid. When they take me out of area I think they’re going to kill me’.”