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Major revamp planned at Ipswich NHS unit branded ‘unsafe’ by watchdog

PUBLISHED: 07:30 03 March 2020 | UPDATED: 08:50 03 March 2020

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

Picture: RACHEL EDGE

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

RACHEL EDGE

A learning disability unit deemed “unsafe and not fit for purpose” by a watchdog could undergo a major revamp under new planning proposals – which families hope could safeguard its future.

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

Bosses at the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust want to renovate bungalows at Walker Close in Ipswich, home to learning disability inpatient beds, to make them "safer, more homely and modern".

Earlier this year, Care Quality Commission inspectors said the environment was "not safe or fit for purpose" and failed to promote independence, while the décor was "tired and dated".

MORE: Mental health trust kept in special measures by watchdog

Now a planning application has been submitted to Ipswich Borough Council, outlining proposals for a revamp of two bungalows - adding new windows, fencing and a porch.

NSFT's deputy chief operating officer Amy Eagle said: "We have submitted a planning application to make improvements to the two bungalows at the site.

"These refurbishments will ensure that people receive care at Walker Close in a safer, more modern and homely environment that meets national quality standards.

"We have been working in partnership with service users and carers to create an appropriate therapeutic environment."

Families 'hopeful' plans will safeguard future

Stephen Henning's brother Andrew is cared for at Walker Close.

He is hopeful that if the revamp is approved by council planners, it may safeguard the service's future.

Last summer, it emerged that learning disability inpatient beds at Walker Close were earmarked for closure by 2021.

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

In July last year, NSFT's chief operating officer Stuart Richardson and Lisa Nobes, chief nurse at Suffolk's clinical commissioning groups, said in a joint statement: "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."

Bosses did not address this point directly in their statement.

However, Mr Henning added: "I'm delighted that NSFT are making a positive commitment to inpatient learning disability services in Ipswich. This is welcome news to families who rely on the amazing work of Walker Close."

It is his understanding that if the improvements go ahead, the aim is to keep the ward open.

The revamp plans will go before council planners in due course.


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