In an update to board members last week, Dr Petra Corr, the trust’s director of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Well-being, indicated that work has commenced.
Initially, the new £80m mental health facility was scheduled to open on a site at Antrim Hospital in 2026. The 134-bed building will replace the existing Holywell Hospital at Steeple Road.
Dr Corr noted consideration is being given to the future of this site which accommodates up to 400 workers and has yet to be decided. It is a listed building which the trust has a responsibility to maintain.
Holywell Hospital has 116 acute in-patient beds. It was built in 1898 to accommodate 1,000 patients with three ‘Tobernaveen’ wards opening in the 1950s.
In September 2020, the Department of Health approved the trust’s outline business case for the provision of a new 134 single-bedroom mental health in-patient service (MHIS) on the Antrim Hospital site which would replace in-patient mental health services currently provided in both Holywell Hospital and the Ross Thomson Unit at Causeway Hospital, Coleraine.
Consultation around this decision to move services to the proposed new unit took place between July and October 2014.
Ross Thomson Unit is an 18-bedded acute admission ward set within Causeway Hospital. The purpose of the ward is to provide care and treatment in an acute psychiatric environment. Patient sleeping accommodation is provided in two and four-bedded dormitories and single bedrooms.
During a presentation by Northern Health and Social Care Trust representatives to Antrim and Newtownabbey councillors in 2021, they were told the unit at Causeway Hospital was “not designed for mental health delivery” with dormitories and single bedrooms.
It is anticipated the planned new “major capital investment will deliver a new state-of-the art facility that will address the failures in existing facilities including lack of single bedrooms, limited access to secure outdoor space, inadequate for family visiting and dining, outdated activity rooms with inadequate space to support structured intervention or provide quiet areas for patients requiring space, inadequate accommodation for staff changing, rest breaks and dining”.
Concern over the proposed closure of the Ross Thomson Unit was raised by Causeway Hospital campaigners during a meeting last week with Department of Health Permanent Secretary Peter May.
In a statement issued afterwards, the SOS Causeway Hospital Campaign group said: “Whilst we received welcome news on planned enhancement of services within Causeway Hospital, we are always wary of domino effect closures.
“We received confirmation the Ross Thomson Unit will close but engagement with the local community will follow. While this appears like centralisation of yet another vital service, we welcome the much-needed opportunity to inform planning for improved local mental health services in our native area, which are urgently needed.”
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A report published by the Northern Ireland Audit Office in May stated mental health problems in Northern Ireland are approximately 25 per cent higher than in England. One in five adults shows signs of mental health problems with an estimated one in eight young people experiencing anxiety and depression.
Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter