Patients experiencing a mental health crisis in central Lancashire will soon be able to get direct access to a specialist unit for help.
The Mental Health Decisions Unit (MHDU) at the Royal Preston Hospital currently accepts patients only when they have been referred from a mental health professional.
But a report presented to a meeting of Greater Preston’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) reveals plans are in place to allow patients to seek direct ‘unscheduled’ care from October – provided they do not have physical care needs which also require attention.
The MHDU – known as the Arkwright Unit – is a chair-based, rather than bed-based facility. It opened just over twelve months ago and is described as “a short-term, safe, therapeutic environment for stabilisation and assessment”.
Patients are able to stay for up to 23 hours, but one CCG member noted that the unit did not have the power to keep people against their will.
“Staff can’t insist mental health patients stay in a chair-based unit [if they want to leave],” Dr. Brigid Finlay said.
“If somebody is acutely unwell and a danger to themselves and others, but can’t be restrained, [then] they end up in Accident and Emergency, where they can be,” the Preston GP added.
Jayne Mellor, Director of Planning and Delivery at Greater Preston CCG, said the Arkwright Unit may not be being used to “its best purpose”.
She said the sectioning of some patients within Accident and Emergency departments could be avoided if they received appropriate intermediary intervention.
Lancashire Care NHS Trust, which operates the Arkwright Unit, said in a statement: “The Arkwright Unit has been designed to provide an alternative to an inpatient admission and to waiting in an emergency department or other facilities for unnecessary time periods.
“As a community-based unit, patients cannot and would not be detained [in] the unit. If assessment indicates that admission to a mental health ward is appropriate, this will be arranged from the Arkwright Unit.
“It is more usual for a patient to move from A&E to the Arkwright Unit, but when there is a physical health emergency, a patient will access A&E from the Arkwright Unit.”