New campus for mental health services could be based in Eastbourne, Bexhill or Hailsham

Mental health services in East Sussex could be set for major changes as the NHS moves ahead with plans to bring a “state-of-the-art” campus facility to the county. 

Eastbourne District General Hospital. Pic Justin Lycett.
Eastbourne District General Hospital. Pic Justin Lycett.

On Wednesday (February 3), the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust board discussed the next steps of a project to change the way the organisation runs its adult inpatient mental health services in East Sussex.

While still at an early stage, meeting papers show the project would involve replacing the trust’s Department of Psychiatry – currently based at Eastbourne DGH – with a new “state-of-the-art” campus facility.

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 Speaking at the meeting, the board’s chairman Peter Molyneux said: “This is a really important staging post towards one of our really important goals, which is to improve the quality of accommodation for our patients and the quality of environment for our staff across the whole of our patch. 

“We know that East Sussex is something we feel we have been a little bit behind on and this hopefully brings us to some kind of equity in terms of environment. It is very exciting. 

“As I say this is a staging post on quite a long journey and this will come back again.”

Currently the Department of Psychiatry provides 54 acute mental health care beds across three wards, as well as crisis services and a “place of safety” where police officers can take people they believe need a mental health assessment.

While it is the largest inpatient facility in East Sussex, its facilities are also dormitory-based – a practice the government wants to phase out by March 2024.

On top of that, the facility is leased from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust – the body responsible for both the DGH and Conquest Hospital – and Sussex Partnership has been asked to vacate the premises by 2026.

According to the trust, there are now three shortlisted sites for a new facility in Eastbourne, Hailsham and Bexhill.

While trust papers say further work is needed on the proposals, they also say this new facility would likely be “somewhere other than Eastbourne” as a result of longer term ambitions to expand the site. 

These long term ambitions were laid out in more detail in a report to the board. It read: “The vision for acute adult inpatient services in East Sussex is for new state-of-the-art facilities to cover all inpatient services provided on a single campus sufficient to service all of the mental health inpatient needs of the people of East Sussex, now and in the future.

“The campus approach will, over time, address all of the trust inpatient needs, grounding it in clinical need and demographic change.

“This will enable the trust to attract the best staff because it will be a leading centre for mental health provision, where excellent research and teaching happens and where patient outcomes are outstanding. 

“The preferred way forward is to deliver the campus in phases, addressing the most pressing issues in the current provision as a first step. 

“The phased approach allows the trust to take advantage of funding available to eradicate dormitories and will see a replacement of the Department of Psychiatry delivered within the next three years.”

According to meeting papers, the trust had initially put forward a business case for £80m to redesign its inpatient facilities, but this was revised down to £50m on the advice of NHS England and NHS Improvement.

However, the board also heard how it could access funding from the government, which is intended to help mental health services replace dormitories with private rooms for patients. 

Sally Flint, the trust’s chief financial officer, said: “As you will recall back in the summer we had a [private] board discussion around the case for change, noting that this is our poorest inpatient accommodation across the trust and we’ve got more beds in dormitory accommodation there than anywhere else across the trust. 

“Indeed it is one of the highest areas of dormitory accommodation in the country.”

She added: “At the end of the summer NHS England set out an announcement for significant capital funding to eliminate dormitory accommodation from mental health. 

“So clearly alongside this work with the case for change and trying to get something to HOSC for consultation, we have been working really closely with NHS England to try and secure that funding. 

“Subject to a successful business case, which will come further down the line, that money has now been ringfenced for us, which is a big step forward for us.”

More information on the proposals are expected to come forward in the coming weeks, with pre-consultation proposals expected to go to the East Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) next week and then to the East Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) in March. 

A public consultation on the proposals is currently expected to take place sometime in early 2022.

‘Broader programme of changes’

The proposals for East Sussex come alongside a broader programme of changes to the way the trust runs its community health teams.

This work is intends to create “seamless pathway” between all parts of the new community mental health service across a range of providers

While perhaps not directly linked to the proposals, the trust hopes this wider programme will reduce demand for its adult inpatient beds in the long run. In the short term, however, the trust expects it may have to create a new mental health ward while the work progresses.