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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Birch Hill - the new £80M mental health facility at Antrim Area Hospital

A planning drawing of the new mental health facility at ANTRIM Area Hospital.

The new £80m mental health facility planned for the site of Antrim Hospital is to be known as Birch Hill, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust board has heard,

Updating members at a board meeting on Thursday (24 May), Petra Corr, director of mental health, learning disability and community well-being, said a public consultation on the development proposal is expected to take place in August.

The 134-bed building will replace the existing Holywell Hospital at Steeple Road in Antrim.

Holywell Hospital was built in 1898 to accommodate 1,000 patients with the three ‘Tobernaveen’ wards opening in the 1950s. Holywell Hospital has approximately 116 acute in-patient beds.

In a presentation to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council in December 2021, councillors were told by Northern Health and Social Care Trust officials of a lack of single bedrooms resulting in “poor observation of patients” and no separate provision for “frail mentally ill patients”, limited access to outdoor space with family visiting, with dining and activity space described as “inadequate” at Holywell Hospital.

“We want to create an environment focused on patient-centred care. We want to reduce stigma associated with being in a mental health hospital,” said Richard Bakasa, Northern Trust’s assistant director, mental health and in-patient services, at the time.

The future of the Holywell Hospital site which accommodates up to 400 workers has yet to be decided. It is a listed building which the Trust has a responsibility to maintain. It is anticipated that the proposed new facility will be open in 2026/27.

A report published by the Northern Ireland Audit Office on Tuesday states mental health problems in Northern Ireland are approximately 25 per cent higher than in England.

One in five adults shows signs of mental health problems with an estimated one in eight young people experiencing anxiety and depression. This prevalence has been linked with both greater levels of deprivation in Northern Ireland and with the impact of the Troubles, the report says.

Approximately, 16,000 patients are on a waiting list, almost 20 per cent higher than pre-pandemic, the report notes.

It estimates that bringing funding levels into line with elsewhere in the United Kingdom would require additional funding which could be as much as £190m annually.

Dorinnia Carville, Comptroller and Auditor General, said: 

“The costs of mental ill-health are significant in Northern Ireland. As well as the human cost, the financial impact to society as a result of care, treatment and lost productivity is conservatively estimated at £3.4 billion annually in Northern Ireland. There are, therefore, significant benefits to be derived from improving mental health here."

The findings were highlighted at the Trust board meeting by chief executive Jennifer Welsh.


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