Campaigners say fight to save ward lost

CAMPAIGNERS who have spent more than three years fighting to keep the St Andrews Ward mental health unit open in Wells have finally admitted defeat.

Somerset NHS Foundation Trust has said that the 14 beds in the ward, on Priory Health Park, are likely to be relocated to Yeovil in spring 2024.

Organisers of the Save St Andrews Ward campaign say that it is now clear that they have failed in their objective.

The campaign was launched on September 24, 2020, on the day that the proposal to relocate the beds was formally agreed by the Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group Governing Body.

Of people from the Wells area who responded to a consultation on the proposal, 75 per cent had opposed relocating the beds.

There were three demonstrations in Wells over the past three years in a bid to save the ward, as well as two in Glastonbury, Shepton Mallet, Frome and Bridgwater, and one each in Cheddar and Street.

A protest petition had collected 4,427 signatures at the time of closing.

Emma King from the campaign group said: “After a meeting organised with the Integrated Care Board on October 19, 2023, it became blindingly apparent that our campaign had failed to have the desired impact and the ward will close in spring 2024 and all services associated with it relocated to Yeovil. 

“We remain concerned that the needs of the residents of the Mendip area are still not being properly addressed and that the removal of this ward will lead to vulnerable, confused people being further distressed, thereby prolonging their mental health crisis.”

There have been some small victories though, she said, with improvements looking likely to other mental health facilities in Wells.

“I would like to thank everyone who helped with and supported the campaign in any way,” said Emma.

“We continue to fight for Somerset’s vital services and intend to continue the fight for mental health provision.”

Jane Yeandle, Somerset NHS Foundation Trust’s service director for mental health and learning disabilities, said: “In September 2020 the former NHS Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group made the decision to relocate 14 inpatient adult mental health beds from St Andrews Ward in Wells to sit alongside the existing Rowan Ward in Yeovil as it will provide greater resilience and help us to keep our patients safe. While we don’t have a set date for the move to take place, we anticipate this is likely to be in spring 2024.

“Alongside this, we are undertaking a review of the facilities on the Priory Health Park estate in Wells, so we can ensure the existing buildings are fit for purpose for our colleagues to provide a range of community mental health services. We want to develop the services we have on the Priory Park site in the short and longer term.

“As part of this review, we’re looking at the future use of the space that will be vacated by the move of the inpatient mental health beds to Yeovil (the St Andrews Ward footprint).

“We are also currently refurbishing the health park’s Willowbank Unit for improved older people’s mental health services, and our next step is to improve the adult community mental health services space at The Bridge.

“We are also commissioned by Somerset Council to provide four ‘step down’ beds, which support a patient’s transition back home from an inpatient mental unit, at Keward House in Wells, which have strong links with our home treatment teams in Mendip and across the county.

“We have a flexible approach on using the step down beds, based on each individual patient’s needs, with the ambition of helping them to return to their local area as soon as possible.

“Our Open Mental Health approach means we can be more proactive in supporting individuals in need at an earlier stage, allowing us to provide support and reduce or avoid the need for further intervention.”

Picture: A demonstration in Wells in December 2021 during the campaign urging health bosses to keep St Andrews Ward in the city