Plans revealed for £60m state-of-the art mental health facility in Bedford

Plans for a £60m mental health facility in Bedford could shake up similar services across the county, a meeting has heard.

NHS bosses are seeking to transform Grade II-listed Shires House in the north wing of Bedford Hospital into the premier mental health facility in Bedfordshire.

The building was gutted by a fire in 2019 and is now part of Bedford Health Village.

But potential investment in the site could lead to the closure of Oakley Court and Calnwood Court in Luton, as well as Townsend Court in Houghton Regis, a health leader has warned.

Bedford Hospital (stock image)

Richard Fradgley, director of integrated care at East London NHS Foundation Trust (ELFT) - which provides mental health services across Bedforshire - delivered his verdict at a Central Bedfordshire Council meeting.

"It's quite a complex site," Mr Fradgley told CBC's health and social care scrutiny committee.

"There was a fire there recently.

"It's a listed building and we don't know what environmental issues we'll encounter there.

"We estimate the costs to be around £60m at this stage."

The proposed facility has been described as "a once in a generation opportunity for the people of Central Bedfordshire and Bedford borough".

It would mean a return of inpatient mental health services to Bedford, after the closure of Weller Wing at Bedford Hospital in 2017.

Beds, Luton and Milton Keynes (BLMK) Clinical Commissioning Group and ELFT are committed to developing "state-of-the-art" mental health services in the county, stated a report to the committee.

"The aim is to ensure that Care Quality Commission (CQC) standards are met and exceeded, which the previous facilities in Bedford failed to achieve.

"It's in the final stages of securing a long-term lease on Shires House, as talks are advanced with NHS Property Services."

ELFT currently provides 59 beds for adults with mental health problems in the county.

"This would in all probability lead to the relocation of beds at Townsend Court in Houghton Regis, and Oakley Court and Calnwood Court in Luton," warned Mr Fradgley.

"It would mean those sites would either close or change use."

Other considerations include the growth and change in population over next 15 to 20 years in Bedfordshire, and the impact of the development on travel times and arrangements for patients, service users and their families.

"We'll consult with key stakeholders and residents, with the aim of bringing a report back to the committee," he added.

"We've started detailed work on demand and capacity. It's highly preliminary over the number of beds we might need.

"It's a chance to work with our regional partners, NHS England and NHS Improvement, along with a newly forming Children and Young People's Collaborative.

"We don't have capacity for children and young people with mental health problems in BLMK, and we're really keen to make the case for developing that."

ELFT medical director Dr Dudley Manns, described it as "a once in a generation opportunity for the people of Central Bedfordshire and Bedford borough".

He said: "We're committed to building something cutting edge and future-proof for the area."

This would be a "community facing and recovery orientated" unit, "creating a centre of excellence which will attract high calibre staff".

The premises would be close to other services on site or nearby, including the Fountains Court acute assessment unit for older adults and the Cedar House rehabilitation unit, he added.