‘Privacy and dignity’ of new mental health ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital will help patients recover from crisis

An entirely new ward is set to open for seniors with serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead.

The £1.5m ward – called Sunniside – has been designed to help patients and their caregivers with the hope of revolutionizing the way they are cared for during mental health crises.

With ten private rooms, an open-plan living area, and bathroom facilities backed by high tech, the team at QE said patients, families and staff all would notice a huge difference.

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Kate Clark, the pavilion’s director of writing, spoke to ChronicleLive as it prepared for its opening.

“It is a 10-bed ward that provides inpatient care to those patients who have reached the point of crisis, when they can no longer be cared for in nursing homes or in family settings.”

And while the team at QE worked with local mental health crisis teams to avoid having to admit patients, it was sometimes a “last resort,” she said.

There are motion sensors in every mental health room attached to the new QE Sunniside Suite

Kate added: “It is important that we provide the best possible environment to help them recover – somewhere where they really feel comfortable and safe. This can often be a huge challenge in mental health wards.

“We’ve always had a mental health service for seniors here in Gateshead, but the old wing is quite old. There were dormitories here so people don’t have the same privacy they have here.

“The new ward is much better, has a lot more surface area and is definitely less clinical. And it feels a lot less of a traumatic environment.”

The new mental health ward in Sunnyside will accommodate 10 beds for those over 65 years of age.
The new mental health ward in Sunnyside will accommodate 10 beds for those over 65 years of age.

“The dream and the hope is that we will see patients recover much faster because they are in an environment that is fit for purpose and appropriate to their needs.”

She said as via the NHS, recent months have seen strains on services.

“At the beginning of the epidemic, we didn’t see many patients. Families didn’t want people to go to hospital,” she added.

“But in the past nine months or so, it’s been a lot more difficult for people to come forward because they haven’t come forward to seek help when they need it.”

Nursing assistant Natalie Brown at the new mental health unit in Sunnyside
Nursing assistant Natalie Brown at the new mental health unit in Sunnyside

Kate added that technology that includes motion sensors in every room meant nurses did not need to keep patients in their sights at all times and were able to monitor them from afar.

She said, “They mean that staff probably don’t have to sit outside a room watching all the time. What we’re really keen on doing is not restricting people and making sure they have freedom so they have the space and it’s time to recover.”

It’s important for patients to have the ability to use the kitchen or entertain themselves independently, said Joan Crowder, Ward’s director.

“A lot of our patients go home and it really helps that they have that access and independence,” she said. “We don’t want to take away their skills just because they were sick.”

Bright, open corridors are a feature of QE Hospital's new Sunnyside-area mental health ward.
Bright, open corridors are a feature of QE Hospital’s new Sunnyside-area mental health ward.

Kate explained that the new ward would help care for an increasing number of seniors, adding: “People are living longer – it’s not unusual for us to admit that people are 99 or 100 years old. This is not something that happened often even if we look back 15 years.”

“If someone is over 65, they are someone who is older, but can still be incredibly fit. We have to cater to the entire demographic – from 65 to end.”

Nursing assistant Natalie Brown said patients and caregivers played a key role in the design of the new ward.

She said: “It was so important to patients and caregivers that it was less clinical. They don’t want to be reminded that they are in the hospital and that they are not feeling well.

“They also wanted privacy – sometimes patients here need a lot of extra care. This ward means we can be less intrusive with our care.”

She added: “We were able to understand the impact that the environment can have on their recovery and service experience through focus groups from past and current patients.

“The new wing will provide a good basis for enhancing the care already provided by the staff.”

“For those people who are admitted to the ward of the year, the quality of the environment is very important,” James Hackett, the modern superintendent of Mental Health Services for Seniors, said at the hospital.

“This new building offers modern healthcare facilities that provide a safe, comfortable and dignified environment for receiving care and for visiting families and caregivers.”

Jacqueline Belcliffe, Acting CEO of Hospital Trust, added: “We are delighted to now have this new purpose-built unit where our staff can continue to provide high-quality care to the older residents of Gateshead.

“The new building demonstrates the Trust’s commitment to continually improving our services to patients and we are confident that Gateshead locals will continue to benefit from the outstanding care provided by the team, as well as the modern and comfortable environment.”

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