Aerial view of the new Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health in Antrim
Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) has launched a pre-application community consultation as plans continue to progress for the new £80 million, purpose-built Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health in Antrim.
According to the Department of Health, Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of mental health problems in the UK, stemming from both the legacy of The Troubles and a range of wider socio-economic factors.
The Northern Health and Social Care Trust provides a range of health and social care services to a population of approximately 479,000 people across a geographical area of 1,733 square miles (2,773 square km) making it geographically the largest health trust in Northern Ireland.
The new Centre for Mental Health at Antrim Area
Hospital is planned to be one of three new-build projects set out in the Department of Health's strategy, which aims to provide new, purpose-built accommodation, as part of an effort to build a world-class service to benefit people right across the Trust and wider region.
Artist's impression of the front entrance of the proposed Centre for Mental Health
Artist's impression of the Main Atrium of the proposed Centre for Mental Health
Detailed design proposals for the facility have been published in recent weeks for the 134-bed building that replace the existing Holywell Hospital at Steeple Road in the town.
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 heard from NHSCT officials who spoke 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.
Artist's impression of the central courtyard of the proposed Centre for Mental Health
“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 proposals for the new Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health will be constructed on Trust-owned lands south of Antrim Area Hospital. The proposals facilitate the centralisation of Northern Trust Mental Health services within a modern Centre for Mental Health (CMH) comprising 134 single bedrooms, staff and visitor facilities, management and operational spaces, external landscaping and gardens and car-parking, as well as servicing facilities.
The design focuses on providing outdoor space, links to nature and countryside views to support patient recovery. A low-rise building solution will provide ground floor accommodation tor all patents, ensuring direct access to safe outdoor space and facilitating ease of movement between departments. The limited first floor area will be designated as 'staff only'.
The proposals would provide an ideal setting for treatment and recovery, within a centre designed to be considerate of our neighbours.
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.
For more information on the pre-application community consultation, please CLICK HERE to visit the consultation website.