Staff and users left in limbo at personality disorder unit

Service users and staff at the UK’s only hospital for people with personality disorders face an uncertain future ahead of its “temporary” closure.

Residents at the Henderson Hospital in Sutton, Surrey, said staff have told them services will end on 23 April, when they will be moved to alternative accommodation provided by South West London and St George’s NHS Mental Health Trust.

The trust claims the Henderson’s service model (top right) relies on having a minimum number of residents and the current total – five – is too few. However, it has promised to reopen the hospital if sufficient new referrals are made.

Henderson service users’ conditions have deteriorated since news of the possible closure broke last December, according to Caroline Thomson, 32, who accused managers of being “evasive” in responding to questions.

“People here are on the verge of psychosis. Morale has declined, people have been self-harming and we’re all sleeping in the same room at night just to keep an eye on each other,” said Thomson, who joined the Henderson two months ago.

“I’m going to sleep on my friend’s floor. We’ve been told we ‘might’ have alternative accommodation, but it’s always that word ‘might’.”

Specialised services

Fran Swaine, a solicitor from London-based firm Leigh Day, who is representing the service users, said there was a shortage of alternative placements for users, a view echoed by Mind chief executive Paul Farmer.

“By definition the services at the Henderson are specialised, and [elsewhere] services for people with complex personality disorders are patchy,” he said, adding that the transfer of service users needed to be handled “sensitively and carefully”.

The 29 permanent staff and three temporary workers at the hospital could be redeployed to other posts within the trust.

Peter Storey, regional officer for London at Unite, which represents 10 psychiatric nurses and art psychotherapists at the unit, said his members were “confused” over their futures, and redundancies could not be ruled out.

Unison, which also represents Henderson staff, held the first of a series of meetings with the trust last week.

Michael Walker, Unison’s regional officer for health in south west London, said: “We’re concerned that staff will be attached to services that may not suit their skills.”

The trust said a 30-day consultation period with staff began this week. A spokesperson added that residents had been “made aware of options for their future care and specific new care arrangements are being agreed with them”.

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