CAMPAIGNERS have criticised a consultation over the temporary closure of a mental health unit as mere token engagement.

The place of safety suite at Sandalwood Court, Stratton, closed for 12 months in March. Now people in mental health crisis are taken 22 miles to Devizes’ Green Lane Hospital for assessment by specialists.

Samantha Wathen of Keep Our NHS Public said of the month-long online consultation: “It is simply not good enough for Swindon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust to offer this token engagement. The place of safety potentially closes for good in March and a three week period, particularly over Christmas, is woefully inadequate in which to collate people’s views. The organisations concerned are clearly disingenuous in their request for any meaningful consultation, which leaves their real motives open to question.”

Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust said the purpose-built new unit will be safer and reduce waiting times. A dedicated team can be based at Devizes full-time, not spread across the county. The trust argues this is essential if they are to meet the requirement to assess within 24 hours someone who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The temporary closure followed a series of damning reports. The Care Quality Commission said patients waited up to 50 hours to be transferred to a hospital bed after they were assessed by place of safety doctors.

In the Devizes place of safety suite, staff had not identified potential ligature points from which patients could attempt to take their own lives and there was a lack of clear plans in place to mitigate the risks, the CQC said.

However, campaigners angry at suggestions the Swindon place of safety could close permanently say closure will result in more time spent in the back of an ambulance or police car, as Swindon patients are driven the 45 minutes south along the A4361. Between April and October, 49 people from Swindon were detained under section 136 of the mental health act.

Protests were held outside Sandalwood Court in September, with campaigners calling on AWP to reverse proposals to combine the Swindon and Salisbury places of safety into an expanded suite in Devizes.

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

The CCG said in a statement: “All organisations involved with the temporary closures of the place of safety suites in Swindon and Salisbury have been working together to evaluate the changes made since the three locations across Wiltshire were consolidated into a single facility in Devizes earlier this year. From the outset, we have been seeking real-time feedback from service users, system partners and staff, and the engagement process is now being developed further across Swindon and Wiltshire to better understand the public’s views, with the online questionnaire having been designed to give people an easy way of having their say and putting forward their opinions - all of which will be taken into account when considering the future of the suites in Swindon, Salisbury and Devizes. It is only by having the views of local people on the table that we will be able to fully evaluate the service change and reach a final decision that has our population’s best interests at its core.”