A HEALTH watchdog leader has accused NHS bosses of operating a postcode lottery, saying plans to build a mental health hospital in Harrogate appeared to have been overtaken by a move to build another in York.

Councillor Jim Clark, chairman of North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee, said he had been infuriated to learn Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Trust was set to start building a 72-bed hospital in York’s Haxby Road when it already had plans in place for a new inpatient unit in Harrogate.

Cllr Clark said while there had been decades of under-investment in mental health across the county and York, Harrogate had suffered more than other areas.

The trust has said demand for mental health services is three times higher in Harrogate district than the other areas it provides mental health services to, including York.

Plans by the trust for a 36-bed mental health facility at Beckwith Head Road, west of Harrogate, had looked set to go ahead after planners’ approval in 2016.

It is understood contractors were working on improving road access to the site last year when the trust and NHS Harrogate and Rural District Clinical Commissioning Group (HaRD CCG) announced the scheme was being “paused”.

A month after planning permission had been given for the Harrogate site, the Care Quality Commission announced York’s mental health hospital, Bootham Park, would have to close as it was unsafe.

The trust announced its plans for a £19 million 72-bed York unit on a site in Haxby Road, just two weeks before revealing it had put the Harrogate scheme on hold last July.

When the York hospital was given planning permission by City of York Council, Ruth Hill, the trust’s director of operations for York and Selby, said: “People across the Vale of York deserve to have access to the best possible mental health care and this includes having a state-of-the-art hospital.”

While the trust expects to complete building the York hospital next year, concerns over the future of the plans for Harrogate have been raised at two North Yorkshire County Council meetings in the last week.

Councillor Clark said: “Why, if you live in the Harrogate district, does your NHS spend a lot less money on mental health than in neighbouring authorities?"

He added: “My concern is that they are not going to have two sites. They should only be proceeding with the York site when they need further beds."

A trust spokeswoman said it was “considering everyone’s needs fully” in the development of mental health services for people across the Harrogate district.

She said the “pause” in the development of the Harrogate unit was to enable a review of options for both inpatient care and a better, more robust community based service.

She said: “We need to assess if a new hospital, on such a small scale, will best meet the needs of local people in Harrogate or whether improved community services will support a person’s recovery to mental health, and also determine the most clinically effective way to spend limited resource.

“Therefore we are engaging with local people to discuss the future of mental health services and to involve them in developing our vision for adult and older people’s mental health services. No decision has been made about the priorities for the future of mental health services – including inpatient services. We are working with HaRD CCG to engage with local people including service users, carers, staff and partner organisations through a series of public engagement events.”