Medway’s A Block should close because it is just not good enough for people who are suddenly and seriously mentally ill – but it would be better if an alternative could be found in Medway, a consultation meeting was told.

“I think closing A Block is a good idea because the facilities at Medway are rubbish – they have always been terrible,” said Patricia Hardy, 44, from Gillingham, who has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

“Having an ensuite bedroom like in Dartford is much better. In an ideal world, we would have facilities in Medway, but it isn’t an ideal world. But when I was ill, I needed to be close to home. To be in a hospital that was out of my town would have caused me a lot of anxiety.”

The meeting, at the King Charles Hotel, Gillingham, was part of a public consultation on plans to improve care for people having a mental health crisis.
Most people who become suddenly and seriously mentally ill prefer to be treated at home, supported by friends and family, and this has been shown to result in a quicker recovery. However others, who cannot be safely looked after at home, need to be treated in specialist hospital units.

The consultation proposes that existing mental health units in Dartford, Maidstone and Canterbury, which have a high quality environment, become centres of excellence offering the opportunity for a wider range of support, extended therapeutic treatment hours and enhanced staffing.

A Block, the unit at Medway Maritime Hospital for people from Medway, Sittingbourne and Sheppey, is not of the same standard and, under these plans, it would no longer be used for mental health patients.

Instead, people of working age from Medway, who are so unwell they need inpatient care, would be looked after at Dartford’s centre of excellence, at Little Brook Hospital. People from Sittingbourne and Sheppey who also currently use A Block, could be looked after in any of the centres of excellence and this is part of the consultation.

NHS Kent and Medway, which plans and pays for healthcare for local people, has drawn up the plans with the mental health trust, Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.

Lauretta Kavanagh, Director of Mental Health Commissioning for NHS Kent and Medway, told the meeting of more than 30 service users, carers, community representatives and health professionals on Tuesday 2 October that too few beds were needed for Medway to make a standalone unit safe or sustainable.

“This is a specialist, urgent care service. We have learned from what has happened elsewhere that it is usually unsafe to have small isolated units, which are difficult to staff consistently and where there is a risk of practice deteriorating,” she said.

“The staff at Medway’s A Block do a good job of providing care but, largely because of the poor environment, people treated there have a higher chance of witnessing or experiencing a serious incident than elsewhere in the county. I absolutely cannot support us putting people who, through their illness are already more vulnerable, in that situation.”

Other speakers at the meeting supported the move to strengthen crisis services in people’s own homes.

“Home care treatment is a better thing,” said Colin Mitchell, 64, from Gillingham, who has schizophrenia and is in recovery.

Colin, who is a governer at KMPT and speaks on behalf of service users, added: “When you go into hospital, it’s very threatening for people. People want home treatment. They want to be at home with their families.”

Another speaker at the meeting said: “Home treatment is a really good idea – it’s a really great way of helping people with mental health problems. My question is whether you have enough staff to cover the amount of people they need to see?”

David Tamsitt, Director of Acute Services for KMPT, said as part of the plans, there will be investment in more support for people at home, which will also aim to give their carers a break.

People are invited to read about the proposals and respond to the consultation at or for a copy, please email or call 0800 085 6606 or 01227 791281.

The closing date for responses is 26 October 2012.