Rising from the ashes: £60m mental health in-patient facility proposed for hospital fire site

Jon Pauling Bedford Hospital 'North Wing' fire6
The derelict North Wing Bedford Hospital buildings could be transformed into a modern mental health in-patient facility Image: Jon Pauling

A new £60m mental health building in Bedford is “a once in a generation opportunity for the people of Central Bedfordshire and Bedford borough”, a meeting heard.

The potential investment on the site of the Bedford Health Village on Kimbolton Road would almost certainly lead to three premises in the south of the county being shut down.

It would mean a return of inpatient mental health services to Bedford, after the closure of Weller Wing at Bedford Hospital in 2017.

“It’s quite a complex site,” according to director of integrated care for East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) Richard Fradgley.

“There was a fire there recently,” he told Central Bedfordshire Council’s social care, health and housing overview and scrutiny committee.

Read: Massive fire destroys Shires House at Bedford Hospital ‘North Wing’

“It’s a listed building and we don’t know what environmental issues we’ll encounter there,” he explained.

“It’s a large, and really quite significant and complex capital development. We estimate the costs to be around £60m at this stage.”

Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group (BLMK CCG) and ELFT are committed to developing state-of-the-art mental health inpatient services in the county, said a report to the committee.

“The aim is to ensure that Care Quality Commission (CQC) standards are met and exceeded, which the previous facilities in Bedford failed to achieve.”

The two organisations are developing a case for change document for public consultation.

“ELFT explored a number of site options in Bedford and has now identified a preferred location at Bedford Health Village,” explained the report.

“It’s in the final stages of securing a long-term lease on Shires House, as talks are advanced with NHS Property Services.”

ELFT currently provides 59 beds for adults with mental health problems in the county.

“This would in all probability lead to the relocation of beds at Townsend Court in Houghton Regis, and Oakley Court and Calnwood Court in Luton,” warned Mr Fradgley.

“It would mean those sites would either close or change use.”

Other considerations include the growth and change in population over next 15 to 20 years in Bedfordshire, and the impact of the development on travel times and arrangements for patients, service users and their families.

Weller Wing
Since Weller Wing closed at Bedford Hosptial in 2017, there are no inpatient mental health beds in Bedford

“We’ll consult with key stakeholders and residents, with the aim of bringing a report back to the committee,” he added.

“We’ve started detailed work on demand and capacity. It’s highly preliminary over the number of beds we might need.

“It’s a chance to work with our regional partners, NHS England and NHS Improvement, along with a newly forming Children and Young People’s Collaborative.

“We don’t have capacity for children and young people with mental health problems in BLMK, and we’re really keen to make the case for developing that.”

ELFT medical director Dr Dudley Manns, described it as “a once in a generation opportunity for the people of Central Bedfordshire and Bedford borough”.

He said: “We’re committed to building something cutting edge and future-proof for the area.”

Services would include:

  • NHS 111 24-hour mental health crisis support for all ages across Bedfordshire
  • a Bedford mental health crisis café and 24-hour mental health assessment hubs, in the north and south of the county, providing walk-in crisis support
  • the expanded Bedfordshire and Luton mental health recovery college
  • Bedfordshire Wellbeing Service
  • Development of new neighbourhood mental health teams around primary care networks

This would be a “community facing and recovery-orientated” unit, “creating a centre of excellence which will attract high calibre staff”.

The premises would be close to other services on site or nearby, including the Fountains Court acute assessment unit for older adults and the Cedar House rehabilitation unit, he added.

The plans were welcomed by Bedford & Kempston MP, Mohammad Yasin, who has made the return of in-patient mental health provision a priority since he became an MP.

“I have had regular meetings with ELFT over the years about the need to improve mental health provision in our area so I am delighted that plans to do so are progressing.

“While I’d prefer the people of Bedford and Kempston to have use of these provisions sooner, especially in light of the increased  demand on mental health services because of the pandemic, it’s great that once the site at Bedford Health Village is built, there will be provision for in-patient mental health care for adults and children which will be a vital new facility for patients who need this specialist care.”

by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter
with additional reporting by Erica Roffe

Edited at 10:13 on 28.01.21 to include proposed facilities at the new unit.

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