St Leonard’s Hospital, Hackney. Photograph: Dr Neil Clifton.

Plans to redevelop St Leonard’s Hospital on Kingsland Road should be used to stop controversial plans to relocate the borough’s dementia patients, according to campaign group Hackney Keep Our NHS Public (KONP).

East London Foundation Trust (ELFT) are considering moving all care for East London’s older inpatients with complex dementia to one site at Sally Sherman Ward at East Ham Care Centre.

In separate proposals, the NHS is to consult on how to make St Leonard’s “fit for purpose” for the future, with health bosses set to take decisions over what services the building will provide, as well how it can be improved to afford the £1m per year being charged for unused space by NHS Property Services (NHS Propco).

Both plans have sparked concern in the community, with the Town Hall’s health commission recently refusing to endorse ELFT’s plans for the move of the beds, while KONP are warning that the St Leonard’s redevelopment could result in some of the building being sold off, adding: “Once sold it is lost forever for our NHS.”

Marion McAlpine of Hackney KONP said: “Local residents with dementia need to be near their families, not far out in East Ham. We say, why not use a redeveloped St Leonard’s to keep mental health services local ?

“Currently St Leonard’s is owned by NHS Propco. We note that NHS Propco paid its top managers £180,000 in bonuses in 2017-18, higher than nearly every other national NHS body.

“Chief executive Elaine Hewitt was paid a bonus in the £75,000-£80,000 band, on top of her £220,000-£225,000 salary.

“We want the taxes we pay for the NHS to be used for local services, not
for huge salaries for top managers, and we want to keep St Leonard’s for
local health services.”

Jon Williams, executive director of Healthwatch Hackney, added: “Redevelopment of St Leonard’s is an ideal opportunity to bring dementia care beds for older people closer home. We know families would very much appreciate having local beds.

“It would be ideal if they could also provide some intermediate beds for older people, replacing those lost when Median Road care unit closed.

“Families often tell us how upsetting it is when elderly parents with high care needs have to be moved out of Hackney to get the support they need.”

The Health in Hackney scrutiny commission refused to endorse ELFT’s proposals to move the beds out to Newham, with chair Cllr Ben Hayhurst (Lab, Hackney Central) “taking issue” with the plans, which under-present usage would represent a reduction of 18 beds overall.

Councillors quizzing reps from ELFT and the CCG also raised concerns over the distance families would have to travel to visit their relatives.

Director of strategic service transformation Eugene Jones defended the proposals as having only a “negligible” impact on travel times from Hackney by car, though families using public transport would all see increases to around an hour.

It is understood that the CCG, though “initially sceptical” over the move, had been convinced after a site visit to the Sally Sherman ward at East Ham that the facilities offered there are better than those at the current site on Thames Ward in Mile End, where they were moved just 18 months ago after the loss of inpatient services at Homerton’s Cedar Lodge.

The commission’s minutes show that councillors “expressed concern that when patients had been moved to Mile End they had been told that it was by far the better setting for them and now within two years this cohort was being asked to move again, this time further east”.

They continue: “The family members of these patients [are] also likely to elderly and frail and therefore longer travel times [are] a significant issue.  Also it [is] important with these patients that they [retain] close connections with family members and this [will] be curtailed as a result of this move.”

Meanwhile, at St Leonard’s, City & Hackney clinical commissioning group (CCG) has confirmed that at present there are “no final plans” to use the building for housing, though plans released by the East London Health and Care Partnership have said that turning parts of the building into flats would help remove the void costs charged by Propco, as well as “helping to address housing need in Hackney”.

An ELFT spokesperson said: “”The Health in Hackney Scrutiny Commission didn’t vote on the proposal in the last meeting.

“They have requested additional detail on the current use of the ward at Mile End Hospital and the travel support that would be offered by the Trust. We will bring this to the January meeting for further discussion.”

NHS Propco and City and Hackney CCG were both approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.

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