A junior doctors’ crisis will keep Stracathro Hospital’s Mulberry mental health unit closed for the next six months.
As fears continue to escalate within the area that the Angus facility’s fate will be sealed by a Tayside-wide review aimed at re-shaping general adult psychiatry (GAP) provision, health chiefs have confirmed the heavily-criticised interim closure of the 25-bed local ward will remain.
In February, NHS Tayside bosses took the decision to move patients and staff from the Mulberry within Stracathro’s £20 million Susan Carnegie centre to Carseview in Dundee.
They said they were forced into taking the step due to a shortage of junior doctors, which had left the body unable to find a “safe, workable and sustainable solution” to the crisis.
At the time the change was brought in, only 18.6 whole-time equivalent junior doctors from a requirement of 31 were available to NHS Tayside in its mental health services.
The crisis situation has not eased and only last month it emerged that not a single graduate applied to work in Angus adult psychiatry services this year.
From a total of 92 students who completed training in Dundee, only 46 were available to Tayside, and it was revealed that of 21 newly-qualified staff who applied to work in GAP inpatient services, 18 requested to work in Dundee, three in Perth and Kinross and none in Angus.
Angus Council leader Bob Myles has said he believes the Mulberry will be axed in a “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
This week also saw the revelation under Freedom of Information legislation that since February NHS Tayside has spent almost £80,000 to taxi Angus staff to and from Carseview as part of the interim arrangement — around £500 per day.
Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership host GAP inpatient services in Tayside and the body’s chief officer, Robert Packham, has now confirmed the Mulberry ward will remain closed until at least February.
He said: “We have been advised of our August intake of junior doctors and as a result the interim measures will remain in place for the next six months.
“The contingency arrangements remain an interim solution and do not impact on the ongoing mental health service redesign transformation programme, which is undertaking a review of adult mental health inpatient services and learning disability inpatient services across Tayside.”
Campaigners have already expressed fears that the interim closure will mean the “end game” for the Mulberry ward, but local politicians have pledged to fight for the retention of the facility.
Angus North and Mearns SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon has organised public events in Brechin, Montrose and Forfar next month to generate support for the campaign to keep it open.