Consultation is under way over the future of patients at England’s last standalone learning disability hospital has begun, but capital funding for proposed changes has yet to be approved.

NHS England’ announced this month that it was launching a consultation into the future of low and medium secure services for patients at Calderstones Hospital in Lancashire.

The new consultation focuses on what provision will be put in place for the 160 patients currently cared for at the hospital.

The preferred option is over a three year period to close the hospital at the Whalley site and provide:

  • A number of low secure beds at different sites across the region supported by community beds and specialist support teams; and
  • Medium secure patients being moved to the Maghull site where Mersey Care is developing a joint mental health and learning disability unit with 123 beds.

But the consultation document, published earlied this month, states that the £63m of capital funding needed to close all services at the Whalley site has not been approved.

It added: “It is important to note that approval has not yet been granted for the full amount of capital that may be required, and so those proposals remain contingent on receiving the required approvals.”

While it is not clear which organisation will have to provide the capital, HSJ understands the FT and NHS England are in talks about how the chosen option wil be financed after a decision is made.

Mersey Care has already conducted a consultation into providing medium secure services and approved a final business case for the Maghull unit in September. 

The second option is to maintain a reduced number of low secure beds at Calderstones Hospital, with medium secure services still moving to the Maghull site when it opens.

While this is expected to need between £37m and £48m in capital, it would not live up to the national target, outlined in the Building the Right Support report, to close down beds in institutional facilities following the Winterbourne View scandal.

The consultation says: “Option two would potentially involve reduced capital and redundancy costs.

“However, while it may be more cost effective, the principles contained in building the right support, as outlined in this document, suggest that it is not appropriate to continue to commission hospital beds in the kind of clinical setting located on the Mersey Care Whalley site.

“This is because it involves providing care in an institutionalised setting, situated in an isolated geographical area of Lancashire.”

In October 2015, NHS England announced Calderstones’ main hospital site in East Lancashire was to close within three years, as part of its drive to substantially reduce the number of people with learning disabilities and autism in inpatient care.

The consultation follows the acquisition of Calderstones Partnership Foundation Trust – which runs the 223 bed hospital – by Mersey Care Foundation Trust in June.

Announcing the consultation, NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens said: “We have still got far too many people being looked after in institutional settings, leading to historical patterns of division.

“Tomorrow we will be launching the public consultation on the closer of Calderstones Hospital, the last of the long stay learning disability hospitals.”

The consultation will run until 23 February.