Since becoming the MP for Bedford and Kempston nearly five years ago, I’ve been fighting for the return of in-patient mental health beds to Bedford following the closure of the Weller Wing in 2017.
With the number of referrals for specialist NHS mental health care reaching record highs in England, the need for these beds has never been more urgent. According to the latest national data, there were 4.3 million referrals for conditions such as anxiety and depression, with nearly a quarter of those referrals to children or adolescent services.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists says the pandemic has led to unprecedented demand and services are struggling to keep up.
A staggering 30,700 referrals were made to mental health services in Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) in December 2021, with 13,695 of these for children.
It was against this backdrop that I held a meeting last week with the Director of Integrated Care for the East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT), Richard Fradgley, to discuss the progress of plans for a £60m Bedford Health Village, which will include these beds for adults and children.
ELFT are keen to proceed with the investment to install mental health beds in Bedford. However, they are being held back due to Government bureaucracy and a technicality relating to complex finance arrangements.
Under current Government rules, rather than being able to access centralised funding, ELFT is constrained by the Government’s capital departmental expenditure limit (CDEL).
In September 2021, ELFT submitted an expression of interest for the next wave of the Health Infrastructure Plan to identify a further eight new hospitals to deliver on their pledge to fund and build a total of 40 new hospitals.
This would enable ELFT to access the capital funds needed to build the facility. The decision on whether the application has been successful was due before Christmas but is, frustratingly, yet to be announced.
It’s galling to hear the Prime Minister boasting about building new hospitals when the plans for a new mental health facility for adults and children in my constituency are in place, the funding is sitting in ELFT’s bank account, but they can’t proceed because of Government bureaucracy.
Even if the funding is released this year, we are now looking at 2025 at the earliest for the facilities to be there for patients – many of whom are currently travelling over 100km to access services.
Every day this project is delayed is another day that children and adults suffering with mental health conditions are denied the care they need, deserve and have been promised.
I’ve written to the Health Secretary to urge him to stop risking patient safety, get to grips with the mental health treatment crisis, tackle the crippling backlog in NHS estates and urgently increase the amount of capital expenditure, so this vital project to bring in-patient mental health beds back to Bedford can move forward.
This is a monthly guest column provided by
Mohammad Yasin, Labour MP for Bedford & Kempston.
It is published unedited and does not reflect the views of the Bedford Independent.