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  • Michelle Weir (Local Democracy Reporter)

Plans to replace Holywell with new £80m mental health facility at Antrim Area Hospital site

A new £80m mental health facility is to open on the site of Antrim Hospital in 2026, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council has been told.

In a presentation on Monday evening, councillors were told 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.

Currently, Holywell Hospital has 116 acute in-patient beds with a further 18 at the Ross Thomson Unit at the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

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, dining and activity space described as “inadequate” at Holywell Hospital.

The unit at Causeway Hospital was “not designed for mental health delivery” with dormitories and single bedrooms, councillors also heard.

“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.

Outlining the schedule for development, Alison Renfrew, project director and assistant director of capital development, said the £80m business case has been approved to progress plans with the concept design to be completed by May 2022 and a planning application to be submitted later next year.

Construction is scheduled for completion by April 2026 with the new building expected to be operational by October that year.

Neighbours are to be kept informed on progress with two updates scheduled.

Antrim Ulster Unionist Councillor Jim Montgomery asked if there would be any “flexibility in plans to increase capacity” and queried the future of the existing Holywell site.

He was advised of flexibility with the new hospital with space incorporated in plans for expansion to include potential for two 10-bed units.

The project director said the Trust has not yet decided the future of the current Holywell site which accommodates up to 400 workers. She also noted that it is a listed building which the Trust has a responsibility to maintain.

Glengormley SDLP Cllr Noreen McClealland said that she welcomed the project.

“We have waited a long time for it. We have seen in the past couple of years especially with Covid a lot of younger people who are presenting with poor mental health.”

She asked if young people will be accommodated in the new facility and was advised that it will be open to those aged 18 years plus.

Antrim DUP Alderman John Smyth asked about the security aspect of the hospital suggesting there is an open door policy.

He commented: “It is very hard to get into but once you are in, you can walk out at any time,” he claimed.

Ald Smyth was informed that in terms of security, arrangements have been changed.

“We now operate a locked door policy which is only opened by staff,” stated Mr Bakasa.

Macedon Ulster Unionist Cllr Robert Foster described the new hospital as “an asset that is long overdue”.

He asked if there will be consultation with Translink to provide access.

“It is quite a challenge to get to the site,” he added.

He asked if the Trust anticipated “more pressure being put on Antrim Hospital’s accident and emergency department by people “to get the help they need”.

Cllr Foster was told that a travel consultant has been appointed and that includes the public transport aspect linking with Translink.

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