From the Sentinal. 11th September 2010

CENTRES which look after mental health patients in the community are to be closed at weekends to cut costs.

“The Sutherland Centre in Longton, below, and Ashcombe Centre in Cheddleton have temporarily closed their doors at weekends from today.

And over the next few weeks the remaining two centres run by North Staffordshire Combined Healthcare – Lymebrook in Bradwell and Bennett in Shelton will also shut at weekends.

The closures are expected to remain in place until January, when the situation will be reviewed.

But a group representing patients fears the move is the first step towards closing the units altogether.

The four units, which each have eight beds, were the only facilities of their type when they were set up in the UK about eight years ago to help people needing short-term care to stay out of hospital.

Dr Christine Leaman, clinical director at Combined, said the Cheddleton and Longton centres had been selected to close first as they did not have many inpatients who needed the service at weekends.

She said the trust was spending an average of £120,000 a month on bank nursing staff to cover approximately 1,600 hours of work each week.

Staff who would have manned the resource centres at weekends will be redeployed elsewhere such as to the acute wards at Harplands Hospital in Hartshill or the crisis home treatment team.

Dr Leaman said: “During the week the service will be unchanged. If someone is acutely unwell at the weekend then they will use Harplands.

“We are going to be offering home treatment at the weekends whereas before they would have been in resource centre beds. It will be beneficial as it will allow people to spend more time at home but get the support they need.”

She said all patients who would be affected by the change had been informed.

Lorien Barber, director of the North Staffs Users’ Group, said: “This is a slippery slope. I don’t think they have any real intention of reopening the units at weekends.”

There had been plans to close the 32 beds at the resource centres from March this year. But in May 2009 health officials scrapped the plan after an outcry from patients.

Ms Barber said she believed the temporary closures were part of a bid to resurrect the plan to scrap the centre’s beds.

She said: “We can’t see how patient care won’t be affected. It will lead to people being moved around and having their treatment disturbed.””

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