Health chiefs are inching towards replacing a mental health inpatient unit in Bedford – three years after closing the town’s Weller Wing.
A committee of Bedford Borough Council heard an official blame NHS bureaucracy for progress only beginning now on the project which could take another three years to complete.
The Weller Wing was closed in 2017 after it was slammed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for not being up to scratch.
Since then mental health inpatients have had to travel to Houghton Regis, Luton, or even further afield for treatment.
The council’s health overview and scrutiny committee grasped the chance to grill health officials at their meeting on Monday. The issue was prompted by a public question posed at its meeting in October.
Cllr Dean Crofts (Lib Dem, Kingsbrook) asked, “What has been the delay and why has it taken three years just to start a consultation when you’ve already said it takes three years?
“Those three years have already passed.”
Edwin Ndlovu, the director of operations at East London NHS Foundation Trust replied, “As I understand it the NHS and its process of planning just takes time.
“The bureaucracy is what we have encountered and it’s why we are where we are at the moment.”
Cllr Crofts asked for assurances that the committee “won’t be here having the same conversations in three years’ time.”
Nicky Poulain, the director of primary care at the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Commissioning Collaborative, said, “Being honest with you, as is everybody, we are totally and utterly committed and we have picked the baton up and are working with it.”
Other councillors wanted more detailed reasons for the delay, which the officials weren’t able to give.
Cllr Lucy Bywater (Green, Castle) said, “I don’t understand why we are still in the very early stages after all these years, even given bureaucracy.
“We know these things take time but we’re not even off the starting blocks. We really need this to be speeded up. All patients’ wellbeing is being affected.
“It must be a real strain on very vulnerable people, their family and support networks as well.”
Mr Ndlovu told the committee that an “initial phase” of the plans would be ready in the first three months of 2021 by which time they would be able to present more detailed plans to the committee.
The committee noted the report and a request from health service officials to return for more scrutiny in January 2021 to provide more detail about the proposed facility.
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter