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'People will suffer' - Family in fight to keep mental health unit open

PUBLISHED: 16:00 04 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:10 04 July 2019

Stephen Henning with his parents Peter and Brenda. The family is fighting against the closure of Walker Close, where their son and brother Andrew is currently living Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Stephen Henning with his parents Peter and Brenda. The family is fighting against the closure of Walker Close, where their son and brother Andrew is currently living Picture: RACHEL EDGE

RACHEL EDGE

A Suffolk family fighting to stop the closure of an Ipswich mental health unit have warned "people will suffer" if vital inpatient beds are shut.

Andrew Henning, 49, is an inpatient at Walker Close Picture: CHRIS TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHYAndrew Henning, 49, is an inpatient at Walker Close Picture: CHRIS TAYLOR PHOTOGRAPHY

Andrew Henning, 49, is currently being cared for at Walker Close, a facility that supports people with learning difficulties and mental health needs.

His family - brother Stephen, 46, and parents Brenda and Peter, both 81 - say he is flourishing at the facility, home to Suffolk's only inpatient beds specifically for people with learning disabilities.

However, they have recently been told by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), which runs Walker Close, that it is due to close by 2021.

On Wednesday, a joint statement from the trust and Suffolk's clinical commissioning groups said it "does not meet the national quality standards required for an inpatient unit".

"Ipswich needs Walker Close," said Andrew's brother Stephen.

Andrew with his brother Stephen at an Ipswich Town match Picture: STEPHEN HENNINGAndrew with his brother Stephen at an Ipswich Town match Picture: STEPHEN HENNING

"In my mind there is no doubt that people, like my brother, will suffer as a result of this closure.

"My primary concern is that nothing jeopardises Andrew's treatment or his wellbeing. He's a vulnerable adult and simply can't be cared for at home. "I am a passionate supporter of the work of Walker Close, and I believe that the NHS has got this massively wrong.

"We will be fighting this decision."

The news came just a week after the NSFT apologised for temporarily shutting Walker Close between March and June.

Stephen Henning is fighting to keep the learning disability unit on Walker Close in Ipswich open

Picture: RACHEL EDGEStephen Henning is fighting to keep the learning disability unit on Walker Close in Ipswich open Picture: RACHEL EDGE

MORE: Ipswich mental health unit 'to close by 2021'

Vulnerable 49-year-old 'put at risk' by other patients at Woodlands

Andrew was sectioned and admitted to Lark Ward at the Woodlands unit in Ipswich in April.

This was because at the time, the Walker Close unit was closed to new admissions as it did not have a consultant psychiatrist in place.

But while he was at Lark Ward, the NSFT admitted the actions of other people put him at risk.

Staff felt their behaviour may have contributed to him becoming distressed and laying on the floor for long periods of time.

Sandy Martin, Ipswich MP, wants more assurances over Walker Close from the NSFT  Picture: NK Photography.co.ukSandy Martin, Ipswich MP, wants more assurances over Walker Close from the NSFT Picture: NK Photography.co.uk

It was agreed that Lark Ward and Woodlands were unsuitable environments for Andrew, but his family claims NSFT recommended he be sent out of Suffolk for treatment.

'He was sitting in the ambulance ready to go'

"He was nearly sent out of the county to a private hospital, against the wishes of his family. My mum actually said she would 'lie in front of the ambulance' before she let him be spirited away," Stephen added.

"However, under pressure from the NSFT, we finally agreed that he could leave. On the day that he was to be moved to Cawston Park, in north Norfolk, he was actually sitting in the ambulance ready to go when a last minute phone call from a senior NSFT executive cancelled the order."

Stuart Richardson, chief operating officer at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, has confirmed the closure of Walker Close in Ipswich Picture: NSFTStuart Richardson, chief operating officer at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, has confirmed the closure of Walker Close in Ipswich Picture: NSFT

A few weeks later, and once a new psychiatrist had been hired at Walker Close, Andrew was transferred there in may. But now his future is uncertain.

"I know that Andrew cannot be cared for along the lines that NSFT are currently proposing as their alternative to the work of Walker Close," Stephen added.

"There will always be people who need specialised inpatient care."

'I'd like to hear much more specific assurances from NSFT' - MP

Director of nursing at the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, Lisa Nobes Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNDirector of nursing at the Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups, Lisa Nobes Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The family, who are in talks with the NSFT about Andrew's care, have also raised the issue with Ipswich MP Sandy Martin.

He said: "I was given assurances in broad general terms by NSFT that alternative provision will be found, but I would like to hear much more specific assurances than that, and I am quite sure that Andrew's family feel the same."

MORE: What happens now? Beds won't close until backup plan is established

What reasons did NSFT and the CCGs give for the closure?

On Wednesday, the NSFT's chief operating officer Stuart Richardson and Lisa Nobes, chief nurse at Suffolk's CCGs, said: "The Walker Close facilities do not meet the national quality standards required for an inpatient unit. Any money saved as a result of its closure will be re-invested solely in learning disability/autism services for Suffolk patients.

"We are working together and with our other partners to implement NHS England's Transforming Care programme for those with a learning disability and/or autism.

"In Suffolk, this means the CCGs are reviewing all the current inpatient and community service provision for those people.

"The reduction in the use of institutional care and a focus on community-facing care gives people the best chance of living a rewarding and happy life.

"The aim is always to try to prevent people with a learning disability being admitted to an inpatient unit in the first place."

-Read more about the 'Transforming Care' programme and what it means for Suffolk patients.

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