Mulberry Unit: Reaction from local politicians

Mulberry Unit is based at Susan Carnegie Centre
Mulberry Unit is based at Susan Carnegie Centre

Local politicians have spoken out about the interim closure of the Mulberry Unit at Stracathro Hospital.

A shortage of junior doctors will mean that next month General Adult Psychiatry inpatients at the Mulberry Unit are to be transferred to Carseview in Dundee.

It was announced yesterday afternoon (Thursday) that NHS Tayside would be implementing a contingency plan to deal with staff shortages and that this would take effect from February 1, 2017.

According to NHS Tayside, just over half of the required doctors would be available in mental health services next month, 18.6 whole-time equivalent junior doctors from a requirement of 31, an unsustainable number across three sites at the Mulberry unit in Brechin, Carseview, and the Moredun ward in Perth. They have cited a national shortage of trainee psychiatrists and changes to numbers of junior doctors available to the health authority.

Angus South MSP, Graeme Dey, commented: “I have made crystal clear to NHS Tayside my unhappiness both in terms of the decision to close the Mulberry Mental Health In Patient Unit in Angus as an emergency measure to address a staffing crisis amongst junior doctors and how this has come about.

“I have also met Health Secretary Shona Robison, along with Mairi Evans MSP, to re-iterate that and other matters related to mental health service provision in the county.

“This is being described as an interim measure but it will be August before another opportunity to recruit junior doctors arises.

“The current recruitment round left NHS Tayside with just 18 juniors doctors for mental health when they needed 35.

“As they could not deliver safe staffing rotas from that compliment they had to introduce emergency measures.

“As everyone knows there is currently a review being conducted into the future shape of mental health provision across Tayside.

“This development is unrelated. But inevitably and understandably it will fuel fears over the long term when it has already been made clear that continuing with three in patient units is not an option.

“My view is that NHS Tayside should not have been caught off guard by the recruitment issue. Doctor shortages in this specialism were already on their radar. It had forced them to alter emergency admission procedures previously.”

Montrose councillor David May, who is also a member of the joint board for Angus Health and Social Care partnership, said: ”I have already heard from Angus residents that this so called interim closure will lead to a permanent closure as there can be no guarantee that appropriate staff can be recruited.

“Angus residents are rightly and clearly appalled at this threat as closing the facility has an impact on crisis help in Angus as well as community-based care. It is obvious that even a temporary closure will mean additional travel and costs for many patients and staff, and support from family and friends for patients will be more difficult. I have also have concerns that any threat to the Mulberry unit also impacts on the Susan Carnegie and Stroke units at the hospital, which share staff and the health minster must take action to stop this.”

Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative MSP for the North East Region, commented: “Local campaigners who have been trying to save the Mulberry unit will be dismayed by this decision. There are genuine fears this will lead to a permanent closure of a facility that was only built six years ago at the cost of several million pounds.

“I have been asking questions at parliament on staffing issues in Angus for several months now, but so far I have not received an adequate response. This cannot be ignored and I will continue to make the case for action from government.”