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Laurel House mental health centre, in Canterbury, to close

Canterbury's main centre for NHS mental health services could close by the summer, the Gazette understands.

Long-standing plans to sell Laurel House in Old Dover Road, where patients receive support from psychiatrists, community nurses, occupational therapists and other specialists, are being finalised by the Kent and Medway Partnership Trust (KMPT).

If approved, the majority of these services will move to St Martin's Hospital, where severely ill patients who have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act or voluntarily admitted to an acute ward are cared for.

Laurel House, Canterbury
Laurel House, Canterbury

Fears have been raised that the relocation would force people struggling with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis and other mental illnesses to return to a place where they have been "imprisoned".

Becky Whitehead, who has borderline personality disorder and spent two weeks hospitalised at St Martin's last April, says the thought of having to go to the site in Littlebourne Road for follow-up care "terrifies" her.

"People are locked away in those places, sometimes for a very long time," the 25-year-old, who lives in Bridge, said.

"When you're out, you want to make a fresh start and having to keep going back is just so traumatic.

"You don't want to go back to the same place where you have been imprisoned. I wouldn't want to have to keep reliving that."

Miss Whitehead, who until recently visited Laurel House once a week for appointments with a care co-ordinator, says she fears the move could result in patients choosing not to engage with therapy.

Becky Whitehead (8411391)
Becky Whitehead (8411391)

"I just know there's no way I would be able to go back [to St Martin's]," she continued.

"It will mean people not going to appointments, and therefore not getting the support they need.

"You can't have outpatient and inpatient services together. It used to be completely separate, so you don't relate your recovery to your illness.

"I don't know what made them think this would be a good idea. It's one of the most stupid ideas ever."

Mark Kilbey, the director of Canterbury-based mental health charity Take Off, is arguing for patients and their carers to be given a say on where services are relocated.

"It's going to be a very bad move, because there's a number of people who will have received inpatient treatment in those buildings. Returning to that site is going to be a reminder of something that will have happened to them at a bad time in their life," he said.

"Logistically, it's also a bad location because it's out of the town and difficult to reach.

"We know Laurel House is in need of major refurbishments. But there's been no consultation about this decision, and that is extremely concerning.

"They need to be consulting with people who use these services. Half of the St Martin's site was recently sold off with no consultation with service users, and the same thing is now happening again.

"It's extremely bad practice when you're dealing with vulnerable people, and they need to access these services on a regular basis."

Mark Kilbey, director of Take Off
Mark Kilbey, director of Take Off

A spokesman for KMPT said: "Laurel House is rapidly becoming no longer fit for purpose.

"We have listened to staff and patients who have raised concerns about the building and lack of parking at the site but we are limited with the improvements we can make to such an old building.

"We are taking this opportunity to relocate our services in Canterbury to one site, at our Eastern and Coastal Area Offices, making it easier for patients who have contact with a range of our services.

"There isn't a set timeline at the moment but we are taking every opportunity to listen to patients and address any concerns they may have about the move."

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