New 80-bed psychiatric unit for adults at Hillmorton Hospital gets funding green light

Funding to upgrade one of the worst mental health facilities in the country has been given the green light in Budget 2022.

The project – to provide a new 80-bed adult acute inpatient mental health unit at Christchurch’s Hillmorton Hospital – received funding of $78.3 million.

“The facility will deliver modern adult mental healthcare and increase safety for patients and staff,” Minister of Health Andrew Little said.

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) general manager for specialist mental health services Greg Hamilton said the board was thrilled to receive the funding.

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“This will allow development of new building to replace our current Te Awakura facility for adults needing acute mental inpatient care.”

More information on timelines for construction would be released soon, he said.

Hillmorton Hospital is considered one of the worst mental health facilities in the country, with staff previously describing it as “horrible”, prison-like and the opposite of a therapeutic environment.

Minister of Health Andrew Little says $78.3m will go towards building a new mental health facility at Christchurch's Hillmorton Hospital.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Minister of Health Andrew Little says $78.3m will go towards building a new mental health facility at Christchurch’s Hillmorton Hospital.

A nationwide assessment of health infrastructure by the Ministry of Health released in 2020 rated Hillmorton Hospital as “poor or very poor”.

stuff reported in 2018 that buildings in the hospital were leaky, inadequate and unsafe, with mice infesting the wards in winter.

In 2021, some buildings still leaked in heavy rain and there had been five pest and rodent incidents in the previous year, the health board said.

Buildings at Hillmorton Hospital have been leaky and unsafe for years.

David Walker/Stuff

Buildings at Hillmorton Hospital have been leaky and unsafe for years.

High staff turnover in the forensics unit, which provides treatment for people referred by the courts and prisons, had resulted in bed closures.

“There are 192 beds across specialist mental health services with 172 resourced beds currently as we have temporarily capped the bed numbers in our forensics unit due to staffing shortages and due to the Omicron response,” Hamilton said in March.

“We have also merged two wards and closed another unit temporarily to planned admissions.”

In February, the service had 50 staff vacancies, of which 30 were nursing, four medical and 16 allied health.

The funding will provide 80 psychiatric hospital beds for adults.

Joe Johnson/Stuff

The funding will provide 80 psychiatric hospital beds for adults.

“Our staff continue to do overtime to make sure we can continue to deliver high quality, safe services.”

In 2019, the Government announced $79m for two new buildings on the Hillmorton site for mental health services stranded at the earthquake-prone Princess Margaret Hospital.

The buildings, which are more than halfway to completion, will house inpatient and outpatient services for children, adolescents and families, patients with eating disorders and a mothers and babies service.

CDHB executive director of infrastructure Dr Rob Ojala said in March the buildings and facilities at Hillmorton would be improved, modernized and transformed as part of a master plan, which was signed off by the board in 2020.

“The aim is to create an environment that makes it easier to deliver contemporary mental health care and support people’s treatment and recovery.”

The plan for the new adult acute unit would include space for a new forensic unit, he said.

On Tuesday, Little announced a $100m investment in mental health specialist over four years, including $27m for community-based crisis services, $18.7m towards child and adolescent services, and $10m for workforce development.

Little said specialist mental health providers had told him hospital based services were not always suitable for some patients who would be better served by alternatives in the community.

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