Lancashire Care NHS Trust closed The Orchard psychiatric unit to women this week.
Before the closure there were 10 male beds and 8 female beds in the
unit. The male and
female areas were separate and could only be entered via key-card
access, so the men and women could only access their own bed areas.
Individual rooms in the unit were also locked via key-card, providing
extra security. A single sex lounge was available in both the male and
female areas of the ward. In addition to these areas, there were
communal areas, including a dining room, games room, lounge and inner
While information about why the decision was made to close the unit to women is sparse, there have been two reasons given by the Trust. The first is that the ward should become single sex to protect vulnerable women from the male patients. The second is that there is a greater need for male beds than female.
Anecdotal evidence, based on the personal experiences of female patients, is that the female beds were always at 100% capacity. Frequently, the rooms were filled within hours of a woman being discharged from the hospital. This would suggest that there is absolutely a need for female beds in the area and an FOI request has been sent to the trust asking for the number of female admissions to the Unit and the previous psychiatric unit at Ridge Lea hospital for confirmation. A further request for the number of women in the area who are under the care of home treatment teams has been requested so that an accurate appraisal of how many women this closure will impact.
The first point is of greater concern as it appears to be a case of victim blaming to say to women, "You may be vulnerable, so to protect you, we are going to deny you access to local inpatient care."
Sending women 30-70
miles away from their home for treatment means that they won't have
access to their families, friends or support networks. Research on isolating women from their support networks is well documented as having negative effects. Women are also still overwhelmingly the primary care givers to children and carers for older adults. Treating women 30+ miles from their home means less opportunities for contact with their children and people they care for, causing additional distress on both sides.
Moving women out of their local area will not protect them, it will make them more vulnerable.
If there as been a problem with male to female
aggression in the communal areas, then the trust should address how that is managed. There are single sex units available for men who are seriously ill, and therefore at risk of harming others and otherwise aggressive males. A better
solution would be for staff to ensure that known aggressors or those
shown to be aggressive are moved to male wards, able to deal with those
problems, rather than place the blame on women's vulnerability and deny
them access to the local services that they need.