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Call to re-open mothballed Angus mental health unit in face of spiralling numbers facing suicidal thoughts

The Mulberry unit at the Susan Carnegie Centre closed in 2017.
The Mulberry unit at the Susan Carnegie Centre closed in 2017.

Calls have been made to reopen a mothballed mental health unit in Angus, amid an anticipated mental health crisis.

As figures showed calls to a national helpline had rocketed during lockdown, it has been suggested the Mulberry unit at Stracathro Hospital, near Brechin should be returned as an inpatient facility to help deal with a feared deluge of people in need of treatment.

NHS 24 data shows calls to its mental health hub had topped more than 32,000 between February and September, with SAMH reporting almost half of Scots who were receiving mental health support pre-lockdown now feel they are not getting the care or treatment they need.

North East Conservative MSP Liam Kerr has now asked Scottish Government mental health minister Clare Hughey to consider at least a partial re-opening of the Angus unit.

“It feels obvious that my constituency and Scotland as a whole requires new and urgent thinking to avoid breaking a system that, despite our frontline workers’ considerable and admirable efforts, was already creaking before the pandemic,” he said.

“To be blunt, the lack of an inpatient facility in Angus worsened matters even before lockdown.

“There is an excellent facility, there are excellent practitioners in Angus and Tayside, and more will come on board with the necessary recruitment.

“There is a growing demand. We have not crossed the Rubicon.”

The Mulberry Unit closed to acute inpatients in 2017 due to a shortage of junior doctors and Angus patients were forced to uproot to Carseview in Dundee.

The relocation was supposed to be a short term measure but was made permanent in 2018, despite a fierce campaign to keep it open.

An independent inquiry into mental health treatment in Tayside, completed last year, renewed calls to reopen the unit, after the report said Carseview had “limited facilities” compared to Stracathro.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Since January, the Scottish Government has provided additional support for NHS Tayside to address service provision, clinical practice, organisational development and community led services, and we welcome the board’s efforts to strengthen community mental health services in Angus.

“We welcomed the decision for general adult psychiatry inpatient services to be operationally managed by NHS Tayside from June this year, to bring clarity to those arrangements in line with the wishes of staff and families.

An update on progress of the recommendations laid out in the inquiry is expected in February.

Kate Bell, NHS Tayside’s interim director of mental health, said more than 50 recommendations are being progressed.

She added: “94% of all patients with a mental health problem are treated at home or within the communities they live in through the multidisciplinary community mental health teams. In Angus, these are based in Stracathro, Forfar and Arbroath with clinics held at other sites across the area.

“The decision to transfer the Mulberry unit from Susan Carnegie centre to the Carseview centre was taken by our clinical teams as a contingency measure and the majority of staff from the unit transferred to Carseview to look after Angus patients.”

“Angus Health and Social Care Partnership and Angus Council are working together with their Tayside partners to ensure we take a whole systems approach as to how we care for people in distress through to acute mental illness.

“Since the transfer of Mulberry, people in Angus have now more choice of services in the community supported by specialist regional out-of-hours crisis and inpatient services.”

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