Crippling staff shortages at Blackpool’s flagship £40m mental health unit has forced the closure of a key ward – just months after a patient was found hanged.
The Byron Ward at The Harbour has been shut until further notice with the last patient discharged to another site in Lancashire last week.
The eight-bed ward – the Female Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit – has been mothballed after health bossed admitted they have been hit by a shortage of specialist nurses to care for the patients.
It comes just two months after The Gazette revealed a patient in the unit – who we understand was being treated in Byron Ward – was found not breathing after tying a ligature around her neck. She was placed into a medically-induced coma but died later.
It is the latest worrying episode in the history of The Harbour, which only opened in a purpose built state-of-the-art facility off Preston New Road in March.
A hearing last month heard it was already full to capacity, even before the closure of the Byron Ward.
Today, Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “The latest problem which invloved the closure of the ward is an additional concern coming on the back of problems that The Harbour has experienced in the last few months.”
Lisa Moorhouse, Network Director for Adult Mental Health Services at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Byron Ward is currently closed to admissions to facilitate some comprehensive training for the staff working on both Psychiatric Intensive Care Units and to continue our rolling recruitment programme to support the Government’s Safer Staffing agenda.
“There is a recognised national shortage of experienced Registered Mental Health Nurses (RMNs) and so as an organisation we are looking at how we can use all members of the multi-disciplinary team including nurses, doctors, therapists and support staff to deliver high quality care to those who need to use our services.
“The training programme has been completed successfully and we will be reopening the ward in the near future.”
When asked to clarify the re-opening date, the Trust said it could not give an exact date but hoped it would be within the next month.
The final patient was discharged to an “alternative provider” on September 28 following the removal of other patients.
Asked if other staff would be expected to fulfil the roles of Registered Mental Health Nurses (RMNs) if they couldn’t be recruited, a spokesman added: “There is a rolling programme of recruitment across the whole of the organisation and we are looking at ways to develop the use of other staff for example psychologists and therapists who are also able to deliver therapeutic support for patients.”
Mr Marsden added: “These are worrying developments and the relative vagueness of the responses that we have had so far from the NHS Trust on this matter are inevitably going to cause more concern, coming so soon since the tragic events surrounding the death of a patient.”
The Harbour caters for people from the elderly living with dementia or mothers with post natal depression, to people suffering acute psychiatric problems.
The 154-bed unit comprises a psychiatric intensive care unit, dementia unit and functional acute unit as well as a gym, sports hall, tribunal suites and reflective space in open surroundings.
All rooms are now single occupancy, en-suite, many with country views, while communal spaces lead on to outdoor areas.Around 500 staff are based at the unit.
An investigation into the hanging is ongoing, the Trust said.
It refused to confirm claims from a whistleblower that staff had been suspended as a result of the incident.
The Harbour will receive an official opening on October 30 where former Labour communications chief Alistair Campbell, a mental health campaigner, will be the guest of honour.