A packed public meeting at the Weyhill Fairgound Hall was chaired by local MP, Sir George Young. Residents from the Pentons and Weyhill came to listen to Dr Sayed Bel-Barco, Operations Director of Covenant Healthcare, explain his company's proposals for a Regional Secure Unit on the site of the disused Rothsay Hotel. Dr Bel-Barco was assisted in answering questions by the project's architect, Martin Habell of Maybourne.
Residents heard that the company did not own the site, and would only acquire it from the present owners if it secured planning consent. Dr Bel Barco denied that his company was connected with the company that currently owned the nursing home.
Residents also heard that, as of now, the company had no contracts with the NHS for patients, though the company believed that there was a need for the facility in the area. Dr Bel-Barco said that, at the moment, Andover residents who needed treatment might receive it far from home. The company operated three similar units in Scotland, London and Lancashire.
The project would need to be registered with CHI - the statutory registration body.
Dr Bel-Barco explained that, of the various levels of security for RSU's, the one proposed for Weyhill was at the lowest level and certain categories of patient would be excluded, for example paedophiles and patients with sexual related offences; patients who pose too high a degree of risk for a Medium Secure Unit; patients with a history of organised crime or terrorist offences; people who have primary diagnosis of a personality disorder, substance misuse, moderate to severe learning disabilities and dementia and patients who have disorders caused by organic brain disease without psychiatric systems.
The patients would all be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983, and would suffer from a variety of mental illnesses. They might be experiencing a severe and enduring mental illness or disorder, or who had challenging behaviour that required active treatment and rehabilitation.
If released into the community, this would only happen under escort and when patients had been appropriately assessed. There would be a range of length of stay, but the average might be two years. Patients would be rehabilitated through structured programs of clinical, psychological care and treatment in a creative and supportive environment.
If a patient did escape, there would not be any sirens going off. There would not be any special illumination at the site - it would be no different from driving past a hotel.
Questions were asked about the difficulties of recruiting staff for the RSU, given the shortages in the NHS locally, and whether the traffic noise might delay patient recovery.
Speaking after the meeting, Sir George said that some issues had been clarified, but others remained in doubt. "People left with a better understanding of what was proposed, but it would be wrong to say that everyone was reassured. While there was some relief that the most dangerous patients would not be accommodated, there is still deep anxiety about the proposals and most people at the meeting hope that they will be turned down on planning grounds."