A WEYMOUTH mental health hospital unit has been closed down – prompting concerns about cuts to NHS services in south Dorset.

The Linden Unit – a 15-bed mental health inpatient facility on Radipole Lane - has been permanently axed, it has emerged. The unit, which is based at Westhaven Hospital, has been temporarily closed since 2020 due to staff shortages.

Meanwhile, due to a lack of beds in Dorset, patients are being sent to private hospitals outside the area - costing Dorset HealthCare NHS Trust more than half a million pounds in December 2022 alone.

Dorset Healthcare said some of the closed Linden Unit beds have already been moved to Forston Clinic in Dorchester, and the majority of beds will be transferred to St Ann's Hospital in Poole when a new extension is built in 2026, to reduce travel times for a greater number of patients.

But our investigations have revealed that local NHS mental health patients are being sent to private hospitals around the country as far away as London and the Midlands.

A total of 22 patients were being cared for in private facilities outside of Dorset in December 2022 - 12 of whom were admitted that month.

Those 12 were sent to: Cygnet Lodge in Lewisham, London; The Priory Hospital in Southampton; The Priory Hospital in Nottingham; The Priory, Ticehurst (East Sussex), and The Priory, Woodbourne (Birmingham.) 

In December 2022 alone, out-of-area mental health placements cost a total of £536,945.33, according to Dorset HealthCare Trust's financial records.

With such high demand, the Echo has asked Dorset HealthCare (DHC) why the Linden Unit is not being kept open until the closed beds are moved to St Ann's in 2026.

At the time of publication, DHC was unable to respond. We also asked about long-term plans for the Linden Unit building, which has been repurposed as a Covid vaccination clinic - however the national booster programme has now ended.

Controversial changes to south Dorset NHS services

The decision to formally close the Linden Unit was approved by Dorset HealthCare at the end of 2022. The plan was first mooted in 2017 as part of a controversial Clinical Services Review by the former Dorset CCG.

Dorset Echo: Campaigners during a protest against the closure of the Linden Unit when the proposals were first tabled in 2017Campaigners during a protest against the closure of the Linden Unit when the proposals were first tabled in 2017 (Image: File image)

The review also resulted in community beds being axed at Portland Hospital. Portland Hospital's minor injuries unit and X-ray facility have been closed since the pandemic, with no plans for reinstatement.

Community figures have spoken of their concerns that residents in Weymouth and Portland are being “deprived” of NHS services, with accusations of a "bias" towards investment in NHS services in east Dorset.

Weymouth councillor and GP, Dr Jon Orrell believes the local population has “measurably” greater mental health needs compared to other parts of the county.

He said: “I totally deplore this further loss of vital NHS beds; I am very sad that queues will be longer and local people will be deprived of this important unit."

Dr Orrell added: “Hospital beds in Weymouth, Portland and Wareham have gone; the crisis this winter and queues in A&E shows we need them. Instead we have seen billions squandered nationally on dubious PPE deals, ineffective private sector test and trace, and empty unstaffed Nightingale units. There's a desperate shortage of proper public NHS beds, nurses and doctors compared with similar nations.”

Dorset councillor Nick Ireland, who is a partner governor of Dorset Healthcare but does not have involvement in operational decisions, raised concerns that Dorset HealthCare “appears to have a bias” towards provisions in the east of the county, while services are being closed in Weymouth and Portland.

Cllr Ireland emphasised the need for a minor injuries unit on Portland and opposes the recent loss of beds at hospitals on the island, as well as Weymouth’s Linden Unit.

“Their existence shouldn't be contingent with what appears to be a bias towards funding and staffing in the Poole and Bournemouth conurbation,” he said.

Dorset Echo: The Echo previously spearheaded a campaign against controversial proposals to cut NHS wards at DCH in 2017The Echo previously spearheaded a campaign against controversial proposals to cut NHS wards at DCH in 2017 (Image: Dorset Echo)

Weymouth councillor and mental health professional Tia Roos believes the cuts will come at a cost to the local community.

Cllr Roos said the Linden Unit “has been a really fantastic place” over the years. “I’ve had such insightful and positive interactions with the staff there,” she added.

“We need mental health services more now than ever: people who were previously fine are finally hitting their breaking point.

"Closing and replacing services instead of expanding and building upon them isn’t always as efficient as people would hope. We need more, more, more."

'No job losses'

A spokesperson for Dorset HealthCare said: “The Linden Unit was temporarily closed in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic and staff resilience issues within inpatient services saw its staff relocated to Waterston Ward at Forston Clinic, our specialist mental health unit near Dorchester.

“In line with recent public consultation and modelling about the provision of mental health inpatient beds around Dorset, we decided to close the Linden ward permanently last year. There were no job losses as a result of this decision.

“In turn, we have increased the bed numbers at Forston Clinic, while new mental health inpatient beds will be provided at St Ann’s Hospital in Poole to help meet needs in the east of the county.

"These beds are part of the New Hospitals Programme (NHP) works planned for the site, and should be in place by the summer of 2026. This development will provide state-of-the-art facilities, offering a more modern environment for patients on the same site as our psychiatric intensive care services.

“The Linden Unit has been repurposed as a vaccination centre. The closure of the mental health ward there has not affected services at the adjacent Westhaven Hospital.”

South Dorset MP Richard Drax was unavailable for comment at the time of going to print.

'Legacy' of cuts

Mental health beds were transferred to Linden from Weymouth’s former Blackdown Hospital on Cross Road, which was closed in 1999.

In 2015 the Dorset Echo ‘Hands off our Wards campaign was launched in response to controversial plans to move children's inpatient services from Dorset County Hospital to Poole or Bournemouth.

Dorset Echo: The Echo led a campaign against proposals to cut children's wards at DCHThe Echo led a campaign against proposals to cut children's wards at DCH (Image: Dorset Echo)

During the consultation period, the former Dorset CCG received two petitions against the closure of Kingfisher Children’s Ward at Dorset County Hospital which had a combined total of nearly 28,000 signatures. People raised concerns about travel and transport, the clinical safety of mothers and babies and the effect on families.

Currently proposals are being considered for DCH to join forces with Yeovil District Hospital to provide “consultant-led maternity and paediatric services.”