'No decision made' over psychiatric hospital single gender unit plan

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's chief medical officer, Dr Dan Dalton Picture: ANGELA SHA

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's chief medical officer, Dr Dan Dalton - Credit: Angela Sharpe Photography

Mental health bosses have said a decision is yet to be made over plans to turn a refurbished hospital ward into a women-only intensive care unit - but have outlined the benefits of single-sex treatment.

The Rollesby ward at Hellesdon Hospital is in the latter stages of being renovated and the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) is considering re-opening it as a female psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU).

The proposal would in turn see a ward in Ipswich become a male-only PICU which would mean Norfolk men and Suffolk women would be faced with crossing the county border for their treatment.

Questioned about the plan by Great Yarmouth Borough Council member Daniel Candon at a meeting of Norfolk's health overview and scrutiny committee, NSFT chief medical officer Dan Dalton said a final decision would not be made until the trust had consulted with commissioners and partners.

But Dr Dalton did speak highly of the benefits of single-sex PICUs, particularly for women.

He said: "There is a really challenging situation as we move towards providing care that is both closer to home and more accessible and that is that highly complex interventions that require specialist skills is harder to provide locally - and intensive psychiatric care unambiguously a specialist service.

"Previously we had mixed PICUs in both Norfolk and Suffolk and there are real risks with having men and women who are most unwell located in a single mixed-gender environment.

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"We can mitigate that risk to some extent but what we saw previously was that some women who required a single-gender environment for their own safety were being sent out of area to single gender PICUs. SO having a provision as we had previously was not meeting the needs of Norfolk and Waveney well and going against what we were trying to achieve.

"As an organisation, we think our acutest services should be single-gender for the safeguarding of the individuals in our service."

But he added: "We have not made such a decision yet and we would not do it without it being discussed and consulted elsewhere."

Ahead of the meeting, campaigners praised the ambition for single-gender PICUs, but raised concerns about the distance patients would be travelling to receive the specialist care they provide.