There has been a peak in demand for male psychiatric hospital stays in Lancashire due to “darker and longer nights” and financial worries in the run up to Christmas.
The Orchard, in Pathfinder’s Drive, Lancaster, re-opened as an adult mental health unit in August following a re-vamp and name change.
The unit is a mixed-sex hospital, but Lancaster Care NHS Foundation Trust temporarily changed it into a male only unit in October.
The trust said it was to cope with the increase in demand for male beds, but a local campaign group, Beds In The Orchard, said the change was because the trust had recently closed 15 beds elsewhere.
A spokeswoman for the group said: “The ward was closed to women in October, without any consultation with local services users or the wider community. Women needing inpatient care are now sent between 30 and 60 miles from their homes for treatment.
“This closure discriminates against women in the local area and causes unnecessary distress and isolation of vulnerable women.
“Now (women) must remain out of area for treatment that can see them separated from their families, friends and support networks for many months.
“The trust says this is temporary to cope with a peak in demand for male beds but it comes after closing 15 male beds elsewhere in the trust. “This is not acceptable.
“Women are being hurt now.”
Sarah Regan, from Lancashire Care, said that “social factors including unemployment, darker and longer nights and possible financial worries in the run up to the Christmas period” had resulted in an increase in male referrals and a decrease in female referrals.
She said: “Due to the increase in demand for male beds, the trust is temporarily using The Orchard as a male only unit on a short term basis.
“As soon as the peak in male admissions has settled back to normal rates, The Orchard will revert back to being a mixed sex facility.
“Temporary, short term changes are not subject to formal consultation to enable the trust to respond accordingly to the changing needs of a locality quickly. “The Trust’s new facilities have been designed with this in mind and feature ‘swing beds’ so that the ratio of male/female beds can be altered in line with demand, which is an ever changing scenario. It is important to note that there has not been a reduction in the number of available female beds in Lancashire due to this temporary change; there are in fact empty female beds.”
Lancashire Care said that for the last eight years it has been in the process of re-configuring its mental health services, which has involved increasing capacity in community services, enabling the majority of people to be treated in the community, reducing the need for a hospital stay.
The trust said that while every effort is made to place people as close to their home as possible, the most local unit may not always be the most appropriate for a person and placement is also determined by clinical need.