• Mersey Care was allocated £33m in capital funding from the government to build a new 40-bed inpatient learning disabilities unit
  • But the CQC has now suggested the proposed new unit might not meet new national requirements for LD services to be “small scale” 
  • The regulator is set to question the trust over how the new site, which is yet to be built, will meet its policy to move away from large inpatient units

A new inpatient unit for patients with learning disabilities, which received £33m in capital funding from the prime minister last week, might not meet national standards set by the Care Quality Commission.

Last week Mersey Care Foundation Trust was awarded £33m by the government to fund the build of its new 40-bed low secure inpatient unit for patients with learning disabilities.

The intention behind the new unit is to move patients from its current site at Calderstones Hospital to a new location in Maghull. This is following NHS England’s decision in 2017 to cease commissioning services at Calderstones as part of its transforming care agenda. 

This week, the CQC has said it intends to question the trust, suggesting the new build might not adhere to its “registering the right support” rules which say new services for patients with learning disabilities should be “small scale” rather than large institution type settings.

The news comes after the CQC won a tribunal last week against a care home provider over its refusal to register a home for patients with learning disabilities which would house up to 10 people.

According to its guidelines for new learning disability hospital units, before the CQC registers the service providers must; evidence there is need from commissioners, evidence of effective discharging to avoid long-term stays, and consideration the premises should be “small-scale.”

In a statement to HSJ over whether the new unit proposed by Mersey Care FT would meet its registration standards, the CQC said: “Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust is already registered with CQC and may be able to develop this service under its current registration if it is within the trust’s existing locations. This would mean the trust would not be required to submit a new registration application to CQC in this case.

“However, we would expect that any new provision for people with a learning disability or autism is developed in a way that is consistent with the national service model under Transforming Care and our guidance around registering the right support. We will be seeking clarification from Mersey Care about exactly what kind of unit this will be and how it supports the agreed national policy to move away from large institutional styles of accommodation.”

The proposed unit would be a newly built site located near the trust’s medium secure services rather than being developed from an existing site. HSJ understands the CQC is yet to formally contact the trust about its concerns. 

Mersey Care FT acquired Calderstones Partnership FT in 2016. Closing Calderstones Hospital has been outlined as a key priority by NHS England and as a key part of its transforming care programme. 

In 2017, following a public consultation NHS England decided to decommission all services at Calderstones, which included a low secure inpatient unit. 

At the time, Mersey Care FT said it did not believe the units needed to be moved. Commissioners in Greater Manchester also did not support NHS England’s proposal and backed the option of keeping the low secure unit where it was. The service has since been rated “outstanding” by the CQC.

Following NHS England’s decision, Mersey Care FT made plans to transfer patients at the Calderstones site to a new building based in Maghull. The trust applied for £35m of STP capital funding, which was initially rejected, but last week was backed in prime minister Boris Johnson’s capital funding announcement.

In February, HSJ reported Mersey Care’s chief executive Joe Rafferty had written to NHS England regarding the initial rejection of capital funding. According to that letter, NHS England and NHS Improvement helped the trust develop the business case for the new unit.

Mersey Care was approached for comment.