A West Norfolk mental health campaigner says he fears plans to shut a Lynn unit to new patients may be a stepping stone towards a permanent closure.
It emerged last week that the measure was being imposed on the Fermoy unit, which stands in the grounds of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, because of what managers say are poor staffing levels at the site.
Officials from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) have insisted the measure is merely a short-term move, while new personnel are recruited.
They have also stressed that the 15 patients who are currently being treated will remain there.
But Jon Higgins, whose son Christopher died while in the unit’s care three years ago, says he is worried the measure may be a sign of things to come.
He said: “There’s been rumours about it closing completely and this may be the preamble to that.”
Concerns were first raised over the unit’s future in January, when the trust admitted it could not rule out the possibility of moving services away from the unit, because of concerns for the safety of patients.
That admission came as the trust announced its intention to hold an independent inquiry into the rising numbers of unexpected deaths of patients in its facilities.
Dr Higgins confirmed he has already met representatives of Verita, a London-based management consultancy company, who were appointed to carry out the inquiry alongside clinical reviewer Colin Vose.
Initial findings of the investigation, which will examine the trust’s record of deaths compared to other similar organisations, examine internal investigation procedures and identify priorities for further action, are expected to be compiled next month.
A second report, which will look at the trust’s strategies to prevent patients from taking their own lives, is then set to be released in the summer.
Dr Higgins said he was not surprised to hear of the trust’s decision to move new patients away from the Fermoy.
But, despite his concerns about the way Christopher was treated at the unit, he warned that the new restriction would cause serious problems for new patients, who will now have to go to facilities in Norwich, Great Yarmouth or Gimmingham, and their families.
He said: “For anyone reasonably local in West Norfolk, it’s very bad news.
“The families will have to go an awfully long way and it’s difficult for them, particularly if they haven’t got their own transport.
“It’s the forgotten West again. We’d rather have it there and doing a good job than not there at all.”
The NSFT has insisted the move to shut the Fermoy unit to new patients is “temporary” while safe staffing levels are restored.
It says it is working with health commissioners in West Norfolk to look at several “long-term” options for the unit.
The area’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) has called for the NSFT to set a “clear timescale” for recruiting the staff it needs.