BURTON has united in opposition to health chiefs’ proposals to close the town’s inpatient psychiatric unit, the Margaret Stanhope Centre.
This week, the facility’s future was thrust under the national spotlight during a parliamentary debate held by Burton MP Andrew Griffiths.
Chief reporter ADRIAN JENKINS charts the cut and thrust of a fascinating 30 minutes on the floor of the House of Commons.
IT was 10.01pm when Burton MP Andrew Griffiths stood to address the chamber about the Margaret Stanhope Centre.
The unit’s predicament, he told Speaker John Bercow, may not be big news nationally, but was ‘incredibly important for the people of Burton and East Staffordshire’.
He said the ‘very important’ and ‘muchloved and valued’ centre was threatened with closure by health chiefs who were consulting on its future.
“I have been a member of Parliament for some 18 or 19 months now, but I have not seen an issue that has united people in the way that the campaign to keep open the Margaret Stanhope centre has,” he said.
Mr Griffiths then praised Dr Matt Long, leader of the Friends of Margaret Stanhope Forum, and his colleague, Gerry Chatfield — both of whom were watching from the public gallery — for working ‘diligently and tirelessly’ to bring the unit’s plight to people’s attention.
He also had kind words for the Mail for leading the campaign to save the centre and ‘representing the views of local people extremely well’.
Mr Griffiths then tore into South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) for ‘failing to take account of the grave impact closing the centre will have on mental health provision across Staffordshire and South Derbyshire’.
Referencing an Audit Commission report he used to such devastating effect at the public consultation meeting at Burton’s Pirelli Stadium, the MP asked why his constituents should be satisfied with less than half the average number of beds (14.5 instead of 27.5 per 100,000) provided elsewhere.
Jim Shannon, the MP for Strangford, interrupted to ask if the potential effect on his constituents had been investigated.
Burton’s MP said the Democratic Unionist made a ‘valid point’ before telling the House that health chiefs’ plans would cut the number of beds even further (to 11.5 per 100,000).
“That is putting lives at risk, and we are not prepared to put up with it,” he said.
Mr Griffiths said it took him five weeks to ‘drag’ occupancy rates out of the PCT which showed 87 per cent for the Margaret Stanhope against an average of 90 per cent.
Dr Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, intervened to question the accuracy of health organisations’ statistics.
Mr Griffiths said the ‘facts’ presented to Dr Lewis and himself by their respective PCTs were ‘not the facts’, explaining that for a six-month period during which he was able to examine the Margaret Stanhope’s occupancy rate, it already exceeded 90 per cent. In one month it topped 100 per cent.
He said he ‘simply did not accept’ the unit’s beds could be removed without affecting mental health provision.
Heather Wheeler, Conservative MP for South Derbyshire, then interrupted.
“It is outrageous one of the excuses the PCT is putting forward is that people want care in the community,” she said.
“What people want is respite care, and that is why it is so important the unit should stay open.”
Thanking Mrs Wheeler for her ‘brilliant and steadfast’ support, Mr Griffiths said occupancy rates would have been 113 per cent — and in one month 130 per cent — if the Margaret Stanhope closed.
He said it was ‘not tenable’ for health chiefs to claim inpatients could be treated in their own homes, arguing that their assertion that bed stays had been reduced ‘by a third’ was not supported by its own research.
The study, ‘produced by someone who was on the PCT’s payroll’, showed that in the majority of cases — stays of between two and 90 days — numbers had only reduced from 524 to 518.
“The PCT claims in an independent report that is not independent, which states that inpatient stays were reduced by a third, when it is clear that they were not,” Mr Griffiths said.
“The PCT expects people to accept the closure of this much-loved facility on the basis of dodgy figures.
“I put it that a PCT cannot be allowed to conduct a consultation in this way because the consequences are too dangerous to contemplate.”
Anyone wanting to visit a loved one in Stafford — 27 miles away — would face a two-and-a-half-hour round trip and be forced to pay £117 a week or £470 a month, he said.
“These are some of the most vulnerable people in society, but the PCT thinks it can overcrowd the beds, force people to travel those distances and still provide mental health care that is adequate,” Mr Griffiths said.
“I say ‘no’ — and, more importantly, the people of Burton and South Derbyshire say ‘no’.”
Mr Griffiths said 7,500 people had signed the Mail’s petition opposing closure, adding that the campaign had cross-party support and the backing of every member of East Staffordshire Borough Council.
If the Margaret Stanhope closed, police, he said, would either be forced to travel in pairs to take patients to Stafford or Tamworth, or a vulnerable person ‘might be put in a police cell overnight’, which was ‘simply not acceptable’.
“The Margaret Stanhope has saved lives,” he told the House. “It has rebuilt lives. People throughout my constituency owe a debt of gratitude to the magnificent people who work in this institution, and I owe it to them — and the House owes it to them — to ensure proper consideration.”
Health Minister Paul Burstow said he was aware of the strength of feeling in Burton, adding: “The 7,500 signatures to the petition are an impressive indication of the extent of public support and concern.”
Treatment should be provided in the most appropriate and therapeutic environment, he said, explaining that acute beds should always be available to those who needed them, and patients’ needs and wishes considered when decisions about treatment were made.
Mr Burstow pledged to ensure his department examined the collection and clarity of bed occupancy data, telling the House, under pressure from Dr Lewis, that he would try to ensure the information was ‘robust’.
Interrupting, Mr Griffiths said he had ‘little faith’ in the way the PCT was conducting the consultation on the Margaret Stanhope’s future, telling members there was a rumour the process could be extended by up to six months.
“I and many of my constituents believe that would be a cynical attempt to buy time in order for the furore to die down so that the PCT can plough on regardless of public opinion,” he said.
The PCT should make a decision within the existing timescale, the MP added.
It was in the public interest to ensure new issues were properly understood, Mr Burstow replied, before dropping the debate’s bombshell— he believed the PCT had decided to extend the consultation ‘by three to four weeks’.
This was right, he said, to ensure public confidence.
“The consultation is not yet concluded and there will now be some additional weeks in which further views can be gathered,” Mr Burstow said.
The Mail’s campaign would be one factor the PCT ‘will need to take into account when making its decisions’, he said.
Health bosses ask for more time for consultation process
EXTENDING the consultation process into the proposed closure of the Margaret Stanhope Centre will give health chiefs time to address service users’ concerns, according to one of their bosses.
Alex Fox, the chairman of the common board of the Staffordshire Cluster of PCTs, spoke hours after health minister Paul Burstow announced the ‘three to four-week’ extension in Parliament.
“During the consultation, I listened to service users raising issues which I believe require action to be taken to look at their concerns,” he said.
“An extension to the consultation will allow us to take time to reflect on these issues and make sure they are addressed before any decisions are made on the proposed options.” In a prepared statement, the cluster said the consultation project group would meet tomorrow ‘to discuss and finalise any extension of the public consultation following feedback from the consultation process and public events’.
“The feedback received highlighted some misgivings and concerns around the mental health crisis and home services,” it said. Because of this, (South Staffordshire) PCT and (South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation) trust feel that an extension would allow for further investigation into the issues raised to be completed and for all the facts to be presented.”