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Urgent need for mental health beds, says charity boss

The district’s mental health provision is a “ticking time bomb” waiting to explode, a leading charity chief has claimed. NHS managers have submitted plans for an upgraded 15-bed facility for dementia sufferers at Canterbury’s St Martin’s Hospital.

If granted, the proposals would see a replacement for the existing Cranmer ward on the site – with bedrooms boasting en suite bathrooms and “dementia-friendly facilities”.

Neil BrownThe application has prompted Age UK Canterbury’s chief executive, Dr Neil Brown, to suggest that capacity was in urgent need of expansion. Replacement and improvement is all well and good, he said, but the district is in need of additional beds.

“We welcome the fact they’re not downsizing. That’s a positive. But as we know from the demographic changes and increasing numbers of people requiring care, that the capacity needs to be configured going forward to improve the service, which currently falls short.”

The NHS’s application seeks outline planning permission for a 15-bed inpatient unit to benefit older patients at the site in Littlebourne Road. Kelly August, a spokesman for Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, said:

“This new build will replace the existing Cranmer ward, which is currently located on the west side of the St Martin’s site. The design of the new build will include all en suite bedrooms, an internal courtyard and dementia-friendly facilities.”

While welcoming the upgrade of facilities, Dr Brown says the proposals would do little to alleviate the mounting pressure the mental health service provider faces. He said:

“In terms of the NHS, it needs to be looking at increasing its bed numbers, not just maintaining the status quo. It’s like a time bomb in terms of people getting older. If the status quo is maintained as it is, there will be dire consequences in the next 20 years. Bear in mind we have more and more people in their 50s suffering with dementia. If we don’t increase bed numbers and staffing numbers, the outcome is that people will be left without any form of care.”

At the time of going to press, the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust had been unable to respond specifically to Dr Brown’s claims about bed numbers for dementia sufferers.

Last year the Gazette revealed how the county’s NHS mental health trust spent more than £5 million on private hospitals in 2013 due to a shortage of beds for patients. A Freedom of Information request showed 356 patients in Kent had been placed into private care over just 12 months because beds could not be found.

The patients, detained under the Mental Health Act, were sent to “places of safety” up and down the country at a cost of £5,671,000 to the taxpayer. Age UK Canterbury, based in Castle Row, provides 10 places per day for dementia sufferers.

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