Mental Health Changes Spark Fears For Jobs And Inpatients

Anxious staff at a West Cumberland Hospital are facing an uncertain future and some may lose their jobs. The wards are combining to care for people of all ages and a range of mental health problems. The new unit is based at Yewdale Ward until a new multi-million pound facility is built. But staff – who say they are having to reapply for their own jobs as a result – say the move to combine the wards is “unsafe”. They say that people aged 65 and over will be moved on to a ward with people of all ages, some of whom may be drug users and violent.

Staff say health bosses say it will give elderly people proper access to care but that the nurses say a separate unit with separate staff is needed.

“We have all got at-risk letters,” concerned staff members said. “The amalgamating of wards means that there are too many nurses for too few jobs. They are putting elderly people on Yewdale Ward which is not fit for the purpose and reducing staff numbers at the same time.”

It is understood that around 50 staff have received at-risk letters and that around 10 staff could lose their jobs.

“Staff are very angry because they feel there hasn’t been proper consultation and that things are moving too quickly for us to be able to do anything about it in such a short space of time,” they said. “But the biggest fear is the unsafeness, there is too much of a cross-section of patients.”

Staff are next week due to have informal interviews to find out where they would like to be based. It is understood some may be deployed elsewhere, such as into community nursing teams. But they added: “After that there will be redundancy letters. There will be job losses, there’s bound to be.”

Staff also feel the move is not what the public thought they were getting following public consultation into the mental health changes – that there would be a unit for working age mentally ill patients, with an annex for elderly patients.

Dr Andrew Thornton, a middle-grade locum and consultant psychogeriatrician at West Cumberland Hospital, said: “There is widespread concern among all grades of staff in both mental health and acute trust about the changes taking place.”

A spokesman for the North Cumbria Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Trust said this week: “The new multi-million pound facility in West Cumbria is currently being developed by the Trust and will bring together those mental health services currently provided on the West Cumberland Hospital site.

“Bringing together services provided on Windermere and Yewdale Wards will require significant organisational change for staff. We have an established and clear policy in place which has been developed in conjunction with our trade unions colleagues. This policy sets out clearly how we will tackle issues such as staff needing to apply for existing posts and redundancy arrangements should they arise. We will continue to discuss the process of change in West Cumbria with staff and their representatives.”

Regarding combining the wards, the spokesperson said: “The privacy, dignity and safety of patients is paramount in all Trust developments. Yewdale Ward has cared for adults over the age of 65 for a number of years and will continue to do so until the new unit in West Cumberland is completed.

“Service users and carers are currently assisting with the design of this new unit and their views are very important.”