Mental hospital closure plan is condemned as 'inhumane'

Health Editor,Jeremy Laurance
Tuesday 18 December 2007 01:00 GMT

The planned closure of Britain's leading national hospital for people with complex personality disorders was condemned as "inhumane" yesterday by mental health workers.

For 60 years, the Henderson Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, has provided a unique form of residential care to people with severe psychological difficulties who are among the most difficult cases known to medicine.

Its patients are mostly young women who, after traumatic childhoods often involving horrific sexual abuse, have become bent on self-destruction through prolonged bouts of self-harming, cutting and burning themselves.

The hospital is to close because the South-West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust says it cannot afford to keep it open. Two other therapeutic residential centres, the Cassell Hospital in Richmond, Surrey, and Main House in Birmingham, are also under threat because they are no longer funded as a national service. Instead, they rely on primary care trusts to pay the costs of treatment, which can run to 100,000 a year per patient.

Marjorie Wallace, the chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said people with the greatest mental health needs were being abandoned and would become an even greater burden on the NHS.

"This is the equivalent of announcing the closure of the Royal Marsden cancer hospital or Moorfields eye hospital," she added. "Sane is deeply concerned that the country's only national resource for people with the most complex mental health needs is to close on the grounds of an inhumane costing system."

Paul Farmer, of another mental health group, Mind, said the Government had increased funding for local services for people with personality disorders but was neglecting those who needed residential care.

"No one is saying these are poor services," he added. "They are good services but the funding system does not work for them. Their patients are people who, without this support, could easily find themselves sectioned. We need high-level, intensive services as well as low-level ones."

The Henderson Hospital was opened in 1944 to treat soldiers suffering from shell shock and found that group therapy was the most effective treatment. Until national funding was withdrawn last year, it had a six-month waiting list. Admissions have since dwindled and only 12 of the 29 beds are occupied.

Diana Menzies, a consultant psychiatrist at the Henderson, said her patients were at serious risk. "The vast majority are a danger to themselves. They self-harm, there is a high suicide rate, a lot of substance misuse and eating disorders," she added.

"Some also offend and harm others. These people will not be able to get the treatment they need."

Research showed the unit had reduced re-admissions and attendances at casualty units, she said. "The cost is 100,000 a year per patient but, if you calculate the cost of the NHS services used before they come to us and after they leave, there is a saving."

Peter Houghton, the chief executive of South-West London and St George's Mental Health Trust, said the decision to close the hospital was "regrettable" but added: "The trust can no longer afford to subsidise the hospital at the expense of other services."

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