Women with intensive mental health needs may still have to travel into London for treatment under a £60million plan to return inpatient mental health services to Bedford.

A meeting heard that there are so few women requiring intensive mental health services compared to men that it is “not financially viable” to create a ward for them at a newly planned “once in a generation” unit at Bedford’s Health Village.

As a Bedford resident it’s very nice to hopefully see a return of mental health services in Bedford,” said Cllr Kay Burley (Lab, Kempston Central & East) at a meeting yesterday (7 June 2021).

However, if we look at the distribution of where certain patients will be accommodated I am a little bit concerned that in the Bedford area there looks to be no intensive treatment for females.”

Bedford Borough Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee was given the chance to comment on draft plans in advance of a full public consultation exercise later in the summer.

The Weller Wing closed in 2017 because it did not have modern facilities. The new unit is still on the drawing board but health leaders say it will be designed for long term use.

It includes plans for improved children’s services as well as separate inpatient wards for men and women. But intensive wards are a different matter.

Richard Fradgley, director of integrated care at East London Foundation Trust, which runs mental health services in the Bedfordshire area, said: “It’s a good question.

We are examining whether or not there is a business case for female psychiatric intensive care. At the moment we do not have the female psychiatric intensive care in Bedford, Luton, or Milton Keynes.

It is much rarer that women need to have psychiatric intensive care compared to men. Inevitably there are times when women do need psychiatric intensive care.”

At the moment they go to Tower Hamlets in London, the only facility in ELFT’s region.

However, we are looking at this,” he added.

If you are talking about two or three women at a time who might need care, you can’t really create a ward for women on that basis.”

Cllr Burley added: “Whether it’s one woman or two women if they’ve suddenly got to go miles and miles away it’s defeating the whole object of trying to bring facilities nearer.

It’s not their fault that they happen to be female.”

The meeting also heard that commissioners are also considering the issue and whether they could work with a private sector provider locally to develop those services.