Published: 11:45, 21 December 2021
| Updated: 12:22, 21 December 2021
A mental health ward at Maidstone hospital has been given the green light despite one councillor describing the building as “soul destroying”.
The news comes after the Kent and Medway NHS Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT) were awarded £12.65m to eradicate dormitory style wards for mental health patients.
The new ward will be built specifically for older adults, aged 65 and over, and will replace the last dormitory mental health ward in Kent, the Ruby Ward at the Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham.
Another outline application to demolish three other buildings on site was also given approval. In their place a women’s psychiatric ward, a rehabilitation unit, and a section 136 ward (a health based place of safety for mental health patients).
Last Thursday, Maidstone Borough Council’s planning committee stressed the need for a mental health ward in Maidstone, but some councillors were very critical of its design.
One councillor content with the decision was Cllr Peter Holmes who said it was a pleasure to talk about the hospital in his district: “Maidstone is an expanding town with new housing developments but infrastructure needs to come first.
“Mental health in times of Covid is very prominent, and the fact this is for a mental health is brilliant.
“If you look at the style of NHS available for mental health, it is a dormitory style. This is modern and a good facility to have.
“We need to expand the hospital, we need to build the infrastructure that goes with the housing. "I’m very pleased this has come.”
However, Cllr Tony Harwood found the building to be unsightly: “I am very concerned the very utilitarian style of the new blocks and high density is actually detrimental to mental health.
“What we are told all the time is that green space and nature are really important for those with mental health challenges. I don’t think this proposal is there yet.
“I’m sure the planners must feel the same way, I’ve looked at these plans time and time again and keep thinking it’ll be soul destroying having to spend time there.
“Whereas currently it is quite a nice space. I think it requires a lot more trees to be put back and the internal space needs to be a lot less formal.”
Others went further in condemning the architecture, with Cllr Val Springett calling it “functional, horrible and hugely overdeveloped” while Cllr Clive English compared the design unflattering to a Victorian hospital: “There is ample evidence that a building and its surroundings have an impact on people even in large offices, yet alone people who have mental health issues.
“It’s not rocket science to make it look nice. Although the internal conditions were nothing to write home about, some of our 19th century hospitals looked wonderful from the outside.”
Moving the ward from Gillingham to Maidstone has previously proved controversial but the NHS trust hopes it can provide better care in its new unit.
Currently Ruby Ward can only care for 10 patients, despite having 14 beds, and only provides for female patients.
Maidstone’s new ward will include single en-suite rooms, whereas Ruby Ward’s multi-bay layout saw beds separated by curtains.
While it was recognised by a majority of councillors that the design of the hospital wasn’t to their liking, they were acutely aware a mental health ward would be invaluable in Maidstone, and were keen to pass it through if alterations were made.
Cllr Martin Cox claimed councillors didn’t have the “expertise” to judge hospital design, while Cllr Holmes said the ward was an improvement: “We are sat here commenting on a design and members are saying it’s a nice space currently. I live metres from there, I don’t think it is.
“This is a fit for purpose building for the NHS trust they’ve put forward. I do believe that some of the external architecture could be better, but nonetheless it’s a fit for purpose building as a mental health unit.
“Councillor English did say 19th century hospitals were fantastic, I agree, but it is 2021 and there are certain things this design is taking into account.”
Despite disagreement over the design of the ward, approval was granted as planning officers reminded the council a refusal could mean the NHS Trust would lose its funding.
Instead councillors agreed a design code would be put in place on future developments at the hospital, placing an emphasis on the outside architecture and its impact on mental health.