NHS land sale: ‘No beds will be lost’ when King’s Cross inpatient mental health facilities move to Archway

C&I’s medical director Dr Vincent Kirchner. Pictrue: Lucas Cumiskey

C&Is medical director Dr Vincent Kirchner. Pictrue: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

Camden and Islington (C&I) NHS Trust pledges no beds will be lost through controversial plans to sell NHS land in King’s Cross and build a new mental health unit in Archway.

Whittington Health’s chief exec Siobhan Harrington. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Whittington Healths chief exec Siobhan Harrington. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

The trust is selling some of its St Pancras Hospital estate, possibly to Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Opthamology, and will use "most" of the cash to build the new in-patient unit opposite Highgate Mental Health Centre.

Campaigners hounded NHS chiefs about the land sale, the movement of in-patient facilities from Camden to Islington and the number of beds on offer at a meeting organised by Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition (DWHC) at Archway Methodist Hall on Wednesday.

"It's an absolute disgrace how badly funded the mental health services are," said DWHC chair Shirley Franklin.

"We want to see state of the art facilities. But in mental health, you can't supply the same number [of beds as there were before] - it has to be more.

Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition meeting. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

Defend the Whittington Hospital Coalition meeting. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey - Credit: Archant

"It's absolutely dire - I have sat in A&E with the person I look after. As a carer, I know how horrendously distressing mental health is."

C&I's medical director Dr Vincent Kirchner said: "We definitely will keep the beds the same. We're not removing any beds from the total.

"Right now we're in a situation where people are struggling to find [enough] beds - it's an awful reality we are facing every day. We absolutely have to have beds when we need them."

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But he added: "We have a choice - either keep buying more hospitals and beds or invest money in community services. And all the people I people I speak to [say] we need stronger community services."

Last summer, the Gazette reported findings of an independent review showing mental health patients are sometimes made to wait "days" in the Whittington A&E department for a bed.

Whittington Health's chief exec Siobhan Harrington argues building the Archway inpatient unit and two new mental health facilities on existing sites in Lowther Road and Greenland Road would lead to a safer, more holistic service.

"We believe this is good news for local people and for our staff," she said. "About 40 per cent of people coming through the doors of the emergency department have [pre-existing] physical and/or mental health conditions.

"Services have become more fragmented and what we are doing is really looking at how we integrate and bring services together.

"We always have cases for people who wait a long time for a hospital bed [or] a mental health bed, and also we have a lot of people in crisis who sometimes find it difficult to manage in a general hospital environment."

She stressed that it's an "NHS-to-NHS agreement" with services being kept "in house". Last summer DWHC and other campaigners successfully lobbied the Whittington Hospital to pull out of a regeneration deal with Ryhurst, whose parent company Rydon had worked on Grenfell Tower prior to the devastating fire that killed 72 people in June 2017.

The Whittington Hospital currently has no private beds but Ms Franklin expressed concern there may be some at the new facility.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Harington told the Gazette: "This is a public estate. The Whittington belongs to the locals and we want to work with people to do the best for staff and patients."

NHS chiefs have argued the St Pancras Hospital buildings being vacated are costly to maintain and difficult to keep people safe in.

Sir Robert Nailer published a review into how efficiently the NHS uses its land and property in 2017, which argued it could sell costly plots to reinvest in services and become more sustainable. The Conservative government has supported these recommendations.

C&I started a consultation about the St Pancras sale and new units last summer but "less than 300 people" replied, of whom 73 per cent agreed the changes were needed. Just under two thirds (65pc) of participants supported the move to the Whittington site, whereas 12 objected.