18th Century York hospital faces axe

The grounds of Bootham Park Hospital. Picture: Google Maps
The grounds of Bootham Park Hospital. Picture: Google Maps
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ONE of the oldest hospitals in the country faces the axe after health chiefs in Yorkshire admitted it was no longer safe for 21st century care.

Bootham Park Hospital opened as the York Lunatic Asylum in 1777 and has continued to provide mental healthcare to this day.

But following a critical inspection by the Care Quality Commission, NHS bosses have agreed to find alternatives in the city, triggering significant upheaval for vulnerable patients.

Temporary options will be used until a brand new mental health hospital can be built dependent on funding from NHS England.

The Lime Trees unit in York, which provides mental healthcare for children and adolescents, will also be closed following further criticism of its facilities.

NHS managers estimate temporary moves could cost as much as £1.2 million but the financial implications are considered “much less significant than the quality concerns”.

Millions of pounds have been spent maintaining the Georgian Bootham Park but inspectors ruled the wards were not “safe or suitable”, raising concerns over the risks of patients harming themselves and over privacy and dignity, largely due to the design of the building which cannot be addressed because it is Grade 1 listed.

Bosses at the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said the inspectors’ findings backed up concerns of patients and carers. It will hold consultation events in the summer to include discussions over a new mental health hospital in York.

Rachel Potts, the CCG’s chief operating officer, said: “Bootham Park Hospital was built in 1774, it has served the people of the Vale of York well for 240 years, but the time has come for it to be replaced. The CCG believes that the review of mental health services gives us a fantastic opportunity to define the best possible model of care within which we can design a state-of-the-art hospital facility.

“There is no health without mental health and the CCG is confident that the consultation process will allow it to commission innovative solutions that are fit for the 21st century.”

In a statement, Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides services but does not own the buildings, said temporary locations had been found in York but it would be up to 18 months before a move from Bootham Park could be completed.

It was proposed to move two adult inpatient wards, the recently-opened place of safety accommodation and the crisis assessment service from Bootham Park to nearby Peppermill Court which has space for 29 beds. This is used as a community unit for the elderly, who would need to move elsewhere. The hospital’s 18-bed elderly assessment unit would move to Cherry Tree House in the east of the city in six months.

Inpatient care at Lime Trees would be relocated to the vacant Mill Lodge, in the north of York, in about six months. Bed numbers were yet to be confirmed but it was hoped it would have enough capacity to provide local care for youngsters previously sent out of the area because existing facilities were unsuitable. Currently, wheelchair users cannot be admitted to the unit, while male patients are not routinely accepted. Other services will remain at Lime Trees.

“Safety of the people who use our services is always our first priority and we are committed to ensuring that the current Bootham Park Hospital and Lime Trees estate is as safe as possible for the remainder of the time services are based at those locations,” a spokesman said.

“We have appointed an external safety expert to review the plans for Lime Trees and Bootham Park Hospital, and provide assurance that the interim solution at Peppermill Court and Cherry Tree House will be clinically safer than the current position.

“All partners involved in this work are clear that these proposals only provide an interim solution. Bootham Park Hospital is over 200 years old and the people of York deserve a new purpose-built hospital.”

Bootham Park Hospital was founded following a meeting of 24 gentleman of the three ridings of Yorkshire at York Castle in 1772 called by the Archbishop of York. His intention was to create an asylum to prevent the mentally ill from being kept in prisons. At that time, there were only four asylums in the country.

It was designed by prolific architect John Carr who was responsible for a number of buildings in the city and further afield among them Fairfax House in York, Harewood House, near Leeds, and Constable Burton Hall in Wensleydale and built in an area which was then outside the city.

It was initially meant to cater for the needs of poor people, but by 1784 it was decided to admit wealthier patients as well, undermining its original charitable objectives.

Conditions caused a public scandal leading to the building of The Retreat in York which pioneered Quaker-influenced alternative treatment of mental illness.

As recently as three years ago, Bootham Park underwent a £2.7m refurbishment and a further £5m was secured in 2012 for a programme further safety work which has still yet to be completed to address highest risks.

It remains unclear what will happen to the hospital and its grounds but its sale is likely to raise a huge sum despite heavy planning restrictions and substantial investment required to revamp the internal fabric of the building.