PLANS which could lead to the loss of 173 jobs at a renowned psychiatric hospital have been described as alarming by a nursing union.

The Retreat in Heslington Road - which was founded in 1796 - is proposing to close its four inpatient services, with the possibility of selling two of the units to another provider.

The hospital has said any closure is due to the ‘significant impact’ of Government funding changes and that it is looking at the option of expanding supported living services and domiciliary care.

However, its management has been criticised by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) which has said it has failed to consult with it and other unions including Unison.

Sarah Hughes, RCN Officer for North Yorkshire, said: "It is shocking and incredibly sad that a 200 year old mental health provider founded by the Quakers is axing vital mental health services in York.

“Cutting mental health services flies in the face of increasing demand. Plans and promises earlier in the year to expand services at The Retreat have amounted to nothing. Equally worrying is that the commissioners have said nothing about the proposals publicly and The Retreat remains on their risk register.

“Staff are incredibly anxious and worried about the new proposals and the direct and long-term impact on their clients – some of the most vulnerable in society - as well their own futures. Already services are being run down and residents are very upset and confused by the changes, many of whom call The Retreat their ‘home.’"

She said that decisions had been "pushed through" without meaningful consultation and that senior management have "simply refused to talk to the trade unions".

Linda Cartwright, Unison local organiser, said: "173 dedicated, hardworking staff face losing their jobs in the run up to Christmas. Like their clients, they face an uncertain future and feel that they are being ‘strung along’ and not being told what will happen to them."

The Retreat said it had consulted extensively with staff and that while it did not have a recognition agreement with a union it was "committed to meaningful and robust consultation with staff."

They said a staff consultation group had been formed through an election process and 12 meetings had been held with the group since April.

Staff had been told they could be accompanied by union reps at meetings but fewer than three per cent had chosen to do so.

Cathy Waters, CEO of The Retreat, said: "We are working hard to build a future for the organisation by expanding and growing our local community based services, including our high quality Autism and ADHD Service, providing support for people with mental health difficulties into the future.

"In addition, we have been exploring partnership opportunities including the potential acquisition of our inpatient adult services in order to provide continuity of care for our inpatients and significantly reduce the level of potential redundancies below 173.

"We understand that this is an anxious time for our staff and have introduced a series of wellbeing initiatives and access to a 24 hour employee assistance programme. We are also working closely with patients, carers and commissioners."