A SPLIT has emerged between Swindon and Wiltshire councillors following an announcement that Swindon’s mental health place of safety will be shut up for a year.

The borough’s health chief has vowed to fight the temporary closure, saying that he doesn’t see why the council should “pay extra money for a deteriorated service”.

It came after comments from a senior Wiltshire councillor, criticising the borough for allegedly "refusing" to pay for mental health staff cover in the county.

The place of safety suite at Sandalwood Court, Stratton, is where those in the throes of a mental health crisis can be taken by police officers for assessment by health professionals.

Last year, plans were put forward to close suites in Swindon and Salisbury – and expand the place of safety at Devizes’ Green Lane Hospital, managed by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (AWP).

Swindon Borough Council, politicians and campaigners in the town were opposed to the move, with one mental health service user labelling the proposals “disgusting”.

At a meeting of Wiltshire Council’s health select committee this week, it was revealed that NHS England and health commissioners from Swindon and Wiltshire had agreed to a temporary closure of the Swindon and Salisbury facilities.

It is not yet known when the closure will come into force. The temporary closure is to enable staff to make improvements demanded by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission and ensure the implementation of rule changes that cut the length of time someone can be held under section 136 of the Mental Health Act from 72 hours to 24.

While the places of safety are shut, another consultation will be held on the future of the Swindon and Salisbury suites, NHS Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group said in a statement yesterday.

Now, a row has broken out between Swindon and Wiltshire councillors – following comments made in this week’s committee meeting.

On Tuesday, Jerry Wickham, Wiltshire Council’s cabinet member for social care, told the select committee that Swindon Borough Council had “refused” to provide any approved mental health professionals (AMHPs) to cover an expanded place of safety suite in Devizes.

He said: “The net effect of that of the decision is that there will be added pressure on Wiltshire Council to now have to provide the AMHPs for the whole of Wiltshire and Swindon. I think that’s unacceptable.”

After the meeting, officers from the borough and the county are believed to have held talks about the issue.

Coun Wickham, when contacted by the Adver, said: “I’m very happy to say that the difficulties that we were encountering appear now to have been resolved.”

However, the borough’s cabinet member for adult’s health and social care Coun Brian Ford, hit back – calling Coun Wickham’s select committee comments “deeply unhelpful”.

He said: “The opposition to this closure has been agreed between all of the parties in Swindon.

“Our main concern is obviously for the patients involved and we still believe it’s not in their best interest to be dragged to Devizes when there is a facility in Swindon.

“This is supposedly a temporary measure which we will continue to be opposed to. I was informed at a public meeting by Andrew Dean [director of nursing at AWP] that there would be no additional cost whatsoever for Swindon Borough Council, and we do not see why the council should pay extra money for a deteriorated service.

“We would now urge the Clinical Commissioning Group and AWP to enter into a dialogue with Swindon Borough Council over how we can ensure that there are services in Swindon which prevent the need to transport patients to Devizes.”

In response, Coun Wickham of Wiltshire Council said he was “surprised” by his Swindon counterpart’s comments.

“The main focus our concerns have been addressed since this was discussed on the health select committee, so this is not an issue for us both now,” he said.