A brand new ward for older adults with serious mental health conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is set to open at Gateshead's Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The Â£1.5m ward - called Sunniside - was designed with the help of patients and their carers in hope of revolutionising how they are looked after during mental health crises.
With ten private rooms, an open-plan living area and high-tech assisted bathroom facilities, the team at the QE said patients, families and staff would all notice a huge difference.
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Kate Clark, the clerical business manager on the ward, spoke to ChronicleLive as she was gearing up for its opening.
"It's a 10-bed ward that provides in-patient care for those patients who have reached crisis point, where they can no longer be looked after in care homes or in family settings."
She said that while the team at QE worked with the local mental health crisis teams to avoid having to admit patients, some times it was a "last resort".
Kate added: "It's important that we provide the best possible environment to help them recover - somewhere they really feel comfortable and safe. That can often be quite challenging on mental health wards.
"We have always had an older people's mental health service here in Gateshead, but the old ward is quite out-dated. There were dormitories there so people wouldn't have had the same privacy they will here.
"The new ward is much better, has far more space and is definitely less clinical. It feels much less of a traumatic environment.
"The dream and the hope is we will see recovery in patients much quicker because they are in an environment that's fit for purpose and fit for their needs."
She said like across the NHS, recent months had seen pressure on services.
"At the start of the pandemic, we didn't see as many patients. Families just didn't want people to go to hospital," she added.
"But in the last nine or so months people coming forward have been far more challenging because they didn't come forward for help when they needed."
Kate added that technology including motion sensors in each room meant nurses did not need to keep patients in sight all of the time and were able to monitor them more remotely.
She said: "They mean that staff maybe don't have to sit outside of a room watching all of the time. What we are really keen to do is not to restrict people and to make sure they have freedom so they have the space and time to recover."
Ward manager Joann Crowder said it was important for patients to have the ability to use a kitchen or entertain themselves independently.
She said: "Lots of our patients go home and it's really beneficial for them to have that access and independence. We don't want to de-skill them just because they've been ill."
Kate explained the new ward would help look after a growing population of older people, adding: "People are living longer - it's not unusual for us to have people admitted who are 99 or 100. That's not something that happened much even looking back 15 years.
"If someone is over-65 they are an older person, but they can still be incredibly physically fit. We have to cater for the whole demographic - from 65 right the way through."
Nursing assistant Natalie Brown said patients and carers had played a key role in the design of the new ward.
She said: "It was just so important for patients and carers that it was less clinical. They don't want to be reminded that they are in hospital and so unwell.
"They also wanted privacy - sometimes patients here need lots of extra care. This ward means we can be less intrusive in the care we offer."
She added: "We were able to understand, through the focus groups of past and present patients, the impact the environment can have on their recovery and experience of the service.
"The new ward will provide a good foundation to enhance the care that the staff already provides."
James Hackett, modern matron for older persons mental health services, at the hospital said: "For those people who are admitted to the Sunniside ward, the quality of the environment is extremely important.
"This new building offers modern healthcare facilities which provide a safe, comfortable and dignified environment in which to receive care, and for families and carers to visit."
Jacqueline Bilcliff, acting chief executive at the hospital trust added: "Weâ€™re thrilled that we now have this brand new, purpose-built unit where our staff can continue to provide high-quality care to the older population of Gateshead.
"The new building demonstrates the Trustâ€™s commitment to continually improving our services for patients and weâ€™re confident that local people in Gateshead will continue to benefit from the outstanding care provided by the team, as well as modern, comfortable surroundings."
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