A special news report looking at the closure of the former Calderstones hospital, now Mersey Care Whalley, has been criticised by union officials who say it failed to highlight several serious issues.
Glen Harrison, lead convenor for Unison at the former Calderstones hospital, now Mersey Care Whalley, said the news reports failed to properly address the fact that the services currently being offered at Mersey Care Whalley, which employs hundreds of people locally and in which millions of pounds has already been invested, is simply being relocated to Liverpool.
“They are not getting rid of it, they are just reopening it in Merseyside at a great cost to taxpayers, employees and service users,” said Mr Harrison.
The former Calderstones hospital was earmarked for closure following shocking footage which emerged of patients being abused at another hospital near Bristol called Winterbourne View.
The scandal, exposed by the Panorama programme, shocked the nation, and led to the Government pledging to move all people with learning disabilities and/or autism inappropriately placed in such hospitals into community care.
“The former Calderstones, an NHS-run facility, has simply been used as a scapegoat in the fall out from the Winterbourne View inquiry,” added Mr Harrison.
“The Government had to show it was acting on the inquiry’s findings and therefore promised to close the former Calderstones within three years with patients being transferred or offered community care.”
But despite 2019 being the end of that three year deadline, staff at the facility are still none the wiser when the Mersey Care Whalley unit will actually close.
Its replacement, Mr Harrison explained, a state-of-the-art medium security hospital, is currently being built on Maghull in Merseyside at a cost of £60 million.
But Mr Harrison added that £20 million has already been spent on facilities in Whalley, £13 million on its medium security unit Woodview and seven million on a low security unit called Maplewood seven years ago.
Despite this, there are currently bids to also build a £33 million low security unit in Merseyside.
“We already have a medium secure unit here at the former Calderstones hospital and a low security unit which was built just seven years ago and is fully staffed and operational.
“Transferring operations to this new site at Maghull and closing the current facilities at the former Calderstones hospital is a pointless exercise costing around £113 million.
“And what will happen to the current site which is home to the former Calderstones hospital once the facility closes is anyone’s guess although in the current climate my guess is that it will be used for more housing.”
Mr Harrison added that to add insult to injury staff at Mersey Care Whalley will be expected to work at the new Merseyside site, or take redundancy.
Mersey Care Whalley is the only NHS hospital of its kind in the country, and according to the special news reports by ITV correspondent Amy Welch, looks after people with learning disabilities and autism.
Some of its patients have also had dealings with the police, the report stated.
The news reports stressed that the closure of this facility will place some of society’s most vulnerable people at risk.
However, Mr Harrison said the reports failed to explain that the majority of those who are looked after at Mersey Care Whalley are not people who just suffer with learning disabilities and autism.
“The special news reports incorrectly referred to the former Calderstones hospital as an ‘institution’ which it is not and didn’t make clear that we are a secure inpatient setting for people who come to us from the criminal justice system, are detained under the Mental Health Act and have some kind of learning disability.
“If these people were not being looked after at the former Calderstones hospital they would be in prison.
“Less than three per cent of the people that were shown in the report’s clips, make up the people who are currently at the former Calderstones hospital, now Mersey Care Whalley.”
And he added this is why it is taking so long for appropriate transfers and “community care” packages to be put in place for many of the people who are currently cared for at Mersey Care Whalley and have complex needs.
An NHS spokesman said: “Calderstones Hospital (now Mersey Care Whalley) is closing and the safety of patients is our priority, so appropriate support needs to be in place for everyone, to ensure a smooth transition to any new care package or facility.
“Since 2015 the NHS has reduced the number of people with a learning disability and autism staying in hospital by almost a fifth, and working closely with stakeholders, discussions about the time scales for the closure of Calderstones (now Mersey Care Whalley) are ongoing.”
According to NHS England, three levels of security currently exist across secure adult inpatient services each of which provides a range of physical, procedural and relational security measures to ensure effective treatment and care whilst providing for the safety of the patient and others including patients, staff and the general public.
• High secure services provide care and treatment to those adults who present a grave and immediate risk to the public and who must not be able to escape from hospital;
• Medium secure services provide care and treatment to those adults who present a serious risk of harm to others and whose escape from hospital must be prevented. The Woodview service at Mersey Care Whalley currently offers this service;
• Low secure services provide care and treatment who present a significant risk of harm to others and whose escape from hospital must be impeded.
The recognised pathways into medium secure services are:
• Step-down from high secure care;
• Admissions directly from the Criminal Justice System;
• Step-up from low secure or non-secure settings including the community, with specific reference to recalled patients or those subject to a Community Treatment Order.