Published: 13:38, 27 September 2012
The William Harvey hospital, which houses the Arundel Unit
by Martin Jefferies
A mental health unit in Ashford is to close, leaving patients with a round trip of at least an hour to access key hospital services.
A big shake-up announced by the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) will see the Arundel Unit at the William Harvey Hospital shut down.
The closest acute inpatient wards will be at St Martin's Hospital, Canterbury, 16 miles away, or the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (QEQM) Hospital, Margate, a further 18 miles down the road.
NHS bosses say £3.5 million will be spent improving facilities at both hospitals.
Older patients with mental health needs will have a single room with en-suite facilities and there will be more health professionals in each ward.
Patients and carers living in Ashford will also be offered door-to-door transport to Canterbury and Margate.
Evelyn White, associate director of integrated commissioning at NHS Kent and Medway, said: "There is broad recognition among clinicians that having two sites in Canterbury and Margate will improve ward and clinical quality for those patients who are admitted to hospital for treatment.
"The expansion of community services and streamlining of inpatient beds for older people with mental health needs is a proven model that has been working successfully in west Kent for the last two years."
As part of the shake-up, the NHS will invest more money in home treatment services, providing support for people with dementia and their carers for up to three months. A 24/7 dementia crisis service is also planned.
"Improving community support for older people with mental health needs follows the national move away from inpatient care to crisis and home treatment," Ms Evelyn added.
"This means we can support more older people with mental health needs including dementia to live well in their homes for longer."
The changes to mental health services in east Kent follow a three-month public consultation, which asked whether inpatient beds should remain in Ashford, Canterbury and Margate or be merged to create two wards or a single unit at the QEQM.
Local people said they favoured keeping the three sites, although they supported community-based services to help people with dementia to remain at home for longer, as well as better support for families and carers.
The refurbishment of the wards in Canterbury and Margate will now be planned and additional staff recruited.
Marie Dodd, Director of Operations at KMPT said: "We want all of our wards to provide better facilities for care such as single en-suite rooms, spacious dining areas and landscaped safe, secure, outdoor areas.
"By creating a more therapeutic environment and increasing the community support available we are confident that individuals will be able to be discharged from hospital faster.
"We will be thoroughly planning these closures to ensure as smooth a transition for patients and staff as possible."
A staff consultation will be held in November.
Ms Dodd concluded: "We expect that the bed reductions for older adults will be completed towards the end of the year."