Jonathan Warren, the Chief Executive of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT — the organisation in charge of mental health provision in the region) has pledged to safeguard the future of inpatient learning disability (LD) provision in Ipswich. Specifically, this refers to the future of Walker Close, Ipswich’s only inpatient LD facility. I’ve placed emphasis on the word ‘inpatient’, because it’s a vital part of the overall service of supporting people with learning disabilities who have also experienced mental health problems. 

There has been a lot of speculation over the future of Walker Close. Speaking from first-hand experience, Walker Close is very much a success story, and I’d like to praise Mr Warren’s team at Walker Close for their exceptional work. They are caring for vulnerable adults who often have been detained under the Mental Health Act for their own protection and safety. So clearly, there will always be a need for a local, safe and secure inpatient environment for patients. 

NSFT previously announced in July 2019 that the site would be closed in 2021. However, in a letter to me, Mr Warren does say:

‘There is a commitment to continue to have available appropriate inpatient services for learning disabled people but also a recognition that the current buildings at Walker Close are no longer fit for purpose and future provision may be based elsewhere. Walker Close will continue to operate in its current form until any new services are operational.’

I’d like to thank James Cartlidge, Member of Parliament for South Suffolk, for writing to Mr Warren on my behalf  to get this clarification, and thank Mr Warren for his reply. Here’s a copy of the letter in full:

NSFT Chief Executive Jonathan Warren - Walker Close

I will be very interested to see what the plan is for a new facility, if that is what is decided. Of course it could be that they might simply upgrade Walker Close itself. Mr Warren does use the phrase ‘future provision may be based elsewhere’. So who knows, Walker Close may continue but in a much improved form. I’m sure the staff and other patients/families will be relieved to know that there is this commitment from NSFT to both maintain and improve the excellent care that is currently being delivered.

My brother has been in Walker Close since May 2019. It’s no exaggeration to say that his admittance to Walker Close prompted an immediate improvement in his physical and mental wellbeing and, while it has been a very long, hard road, he continues to get better and for that I praise the staff.  My goodness… It’s actually hard to find the right words here because we are talking about such wonderful people. People whose patience, professionalism and kindness seems to know no bounds. Humbling is the only real word for it. You could never pay someone enough to do the work these people do.

Thanks to their work, my brother is finally at the point where he has been able to make supervised visits to Genesis (Orwell Mencap); and come to my house and my parents’ house for lunch. We’re looking forward to the time when he is ready to be discharged. It’s always a concern that he may one day need the services of Walker Close again. I really hope not but, even if he doesn’t, there are other vulnerable adults who unfortunately will.

Walker Close, NSFT, Ipswich

I had an interesting conversation with current Ipswich MP Sandy Martin on my doorstep last week, and he promised to continue a dialogue with NSFT to ensure mental health provision in Ipswich sufficiently serves the community. I am grateful to Mr Martin for his support.

So I thank NSFT and Mr Warren again for the assurances about continued inpatient LD provision. Please know that it is appreciated by the families.

And please give your fantastic staff a Christmas bonus. They deserve it.