A ‘tsunami’ of dementia cases in Wigtownshire in the next 20 years means NHS Dumfries and Galloway plan to close a care home in Stranraer.
The NHS say mental health patients can be cared for in their own homes and that it does not plan to reopen Darataigh in Stranraer.
NHS chiefs claimed this was the best way to meet increasing demand for specialist care when they were lined up in front of disgruntled members of the public at a Wigtown Area Committee meeting on mental health services on Wednesday night in Stranraer.
They came to answer questions about their decision to close the Darataigh unit which provided an in-patient service for older people with mental health problems and a respite service for adults with learning disabilities in the west of the region. After the sudden closure in November last year, following boiler failure, patients were moved to the mental health unit at Mid Park in Dumfries, forcing a 140-mile round trip on loved ones. NHS staff admitted that they had failed to meet national standards of engagement over the Darataigh decision, and they came to Stranraer to explain face to face why they closed the unit to accelerate the new ‘community-based model of care’ for patients in Wigtownshire.
Dr Allan Duncan, the lead psychiatrist for older people with dementia, explained that statistics showed that in 2012 there were 2,850 people aged over-55 with dementia but it is estimated that by 2035 this will have doubled to 5,500, something he described as a “tsunami of rising dementia cases”.
NHS D&G chief executive Jeff Ace said the new model of care being spread across the region would have no role for Darataigh as it was not cost-effective enough for the NHS to retain as a mental health unit, with only eight admissions in three years.
The costs that went towards supporting the small number of patients at Darataigh would in future be used to support “hundreds of families dealing with dementia” thorough a community-based unit and the NHS would use the Darataigh building to provide another NHS services in the west.
“We thought the pluses outweighed the cons.” he added.
Denise Moffatt, the lead nurse for mental health explained that the expected increase in people with dementia meant the service had to change to face this challenge and Darataigh “doesn’t help us meet these needs but a community based model dies.”
Elected members were concerned not only about the distance involved when Wigtownshire mental heath patients were treated at Mid Park, but, in extreme cases, if there was capacity in the system to cope with them.
Councillor Jim McColm asked specifically if a mental heath patient could not be returned home and was unable to be admitted to a care home, where exactly would they go?
After repeatedly asking Mr Ace for a definitive answer, the NHS executive admitted there was no option except Mid Park.
But Dr Duncan pointed out that from a clinical point of view the former practice of moving patients from Mid Park on to Darataigh, then home was “highly disruptive” and the new model would see patients treated at Mid Park and discharged back to their homes “as quickly as possible”.
Kate McIntyre, a member of the public, said there surely was room in NHS plans for a role for Darataigh for the west of the region specifically, as taking patients away from their families was “damaging”.
Mr Ace said that the health service planned to increase training levels for staff and implement more home based support for carers, the majority being a family member on an unpaid basis.
Mr Ace added: “These plans are not idealistic. We have taken advice from experts in dementia and now, with the resources we have got, we can provide a better service within Wigtownshire.”
However, elected members were not convinced with the NHS argument and asked that the unit remains open until its future can be reassessed by the new integrated joint health and social care board when it comes into force on April 1.