Protest to go on despite King’s Lynn mental health unit U-turn, organisers vow

The Fermoy unit in Lynn
The Fermoy unit in Lynn
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Organisers of a protest march planned for next weekend say the event will still go ahead despite health chiefs’ U-turn on admissions to a Lynn mental health unit.

Managers of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust say the move to re-open the Fermoy unit to new patients followed “positive” talks with health commissioners.

But campaigners say they still have concerns about the long-term future of the facility.

It emerged last week that the trust was closing the unit, in the grounds of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, to new admissions because of concerns over inadequate staffing levels.

Although officials insisted the measure was temporary, the news raised concerns over the long-term future of the unit, which has been questioned in recent months within wider unease about care standards across the two counties.

But, late on Tuesday, the trust announced that the unit would once again be opened to new patients from Wednesday morning.

Debbie White, the trust’s Norfolk operations director, said: “Following a positive meeting with West Norfolk Clinical Commissioning Group, we have agreed that Fermoy Unit is now safe to open to new admissions.”

However, only 15 of the unit’s 20 beds will be used for the time being, in a bid to ensure that adequate staffing levels can be maintained. Any additional patients will still have to go to other facilities in the county.

But the trust is working with the CCG to arrange engagement workshops in an effort to find a longer term solution to meet patient demand.

Mrs White said: “There are still no plans in place to close Fermoy.

“Our trust will continue to work closely with our commissioners to look at all of the long term options for inpatient mental health services in west Norfolk.

“The safety and needs of our patients, and our staff, will remain central to whatever decision is made.

“In the meantime, we continue to mitigate any staff shortages at the unit and we are actively looking to recruit more permanent staff across both Norfolk and Suffolk.”

But, despite the assurances, organisers of a demonstration scheduled to take place in Lynn next Saturday, April 23, say their fight to protect mental health services in West Norfolk will continue.

The event has been planned by the North West Norfolk Labour Party (CLP) and Lynn Trades Council, though they insist it is intended to be a cross-party occasion.

It will start with a march through the town centre from the bandstand in the Walks at noon, before a rally in the pedestrianised area near the Majestic cinema.

CLP secretary Jo Rust said that, while the readmission of new patients was welcomed, there were no guarantees about the unit’s future, despite the trust’s public statements.

She said: “Anonymous reports have made it clear that the intention was to close the unit for good.

“We vow to fight this battle to the end to safeguard these vital services for the future. It was campaign pressure which reopened it and it’ll be campaign pressure which keeps it open.”