PLANS to extend a Prudhoe mental health hospital, creating 100 new jobs, have been put to the public.

Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, which operates Ferndene hospital, held a public consultation last Wednesday, which outlined a proposal to operate new ‘medium secure’ facilities at the site.

The change will involve a reduction in the number of beds and small extensions to the rear of the building.

If approved, the proposals would see patients under 18 rated as medium secure moved from St Nicholas Hospital in Gosforth to Ferndene, which currently has low secure facilities for children and young people.

However, a resident from Humbles Wood in Prudhoe, said local residents were concerned at the the risk to the public.

According to NHS guidelines, medium secure services accommodate young people with mental and neuro-developmental disorders who present the highest levels of risk of harm to others, including those who have committed grave crimes.

The resident said: “We’re quite happy with the way Ferndene is at the moment, but we don’t want to see this take place. Children classed as medium secure are not just high risk to themselves, but also to others.”

However, Dr Lisa Rippon, associate medical director for the trust’s children’s and young people’s services said the majority of patients would be those who presented a significant risk of self-harm.

The proposal is to create 100 new nursing posts to deal with the increase in demand, with additional parking spaces. 

Tony Railton, consultant for the trust’s Care Environment Development and Re-provision (Cedar) programme, added: “The development represents an increase of less than eight per cent in the size of the site.

“There’s currently 40 beds, going down to 38. Of that, 14 will be two seven-bed medium secure wards.

It brings all our expertise in children’s services under one roof, instead of across two sites.”

However, the resident said he was not consulted on the plans, and the introduction of medium secure patients could pose a threat to the nearby Humbles Wood and Cottier Grange housing estates.

James Duncan, deputy chief executive and director of finance at the trust, said: “We can assure residents that all of the young people who come under our care are subject to very robust clinical risk assessment and planning procedures. 

“Measures, including increased security via the introduction of a secure fence, are currently being put in place to ensure the public and our service users are as safe as possible.”

Northumberland County Councillor Gordon Stewart, who represents Prudhoe South, said he welcomed the proposed major investment and potential employment opportunities, but the safety of the public, staff and patients had to be paramount.