CAMPAIGNERS have slammed plans to close Swindon’s mental health ‘place of safety’ suite for a year.

NHS chiefs confirmed yesterday that the emergency suite at Sandalwood Court, Stratton, would shut temporarily – with patients taken the closest suite in Devizes.

The decision has proven controversial, with politicians and campaigners calling it “ill advised”.

It follows 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.

Newlands Anning, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust’s Swindon boss, told a council meeting 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.

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 that the closure of the place of safety suites in Swindon and Salisbury would allow them to make improvements demanded by the CQC - ensuring that new rules cutting detention times by a third could be delivered.

She added: “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.”

Places of safety are where people in the midst of a mental health crisis can be taken for assessment by health professionals.

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.

A consultation was held in 2017 over the future of three Wiltshire place of safety suites – managed by AWP.

It 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 was revealed in a Wiltshire Council health select committee this week.

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”, adding: “People who are in that situation require support from their nearest and dearest.”

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’.”

Samantha Wathen of campaign group Keep Our NHS Public, added: "Our local NHS service is already grossly overstretched and care for patients in crisis will now fall to the ambulance service to transport service users a 45 minute trip to Devizes.

" Alternatively, people experiencing a mental health crisis may well be inappropriately detained in police custody. The likelihood of the 136 facility reopening after this period when this was AWP's decision all along is debatable."

It is not yet known when the temporary closure of the Swindon suite would come into force.