A COMPANY which provides specialist care in complex mental health diagnoses is waiting to hear whether its bid for a new facility in York will win support.

A decision is expected early this year on the planning application for a purpose-built centre to treat mental health patients at The Retreat.

So who is behind the proposed £13 million investment and what will it mean for the city? Nadia Jefferson-Brown interviews Michele Paley, director of mental health services for Schoen Clinic which has lodged the application for the historic site.

SCHOEN Clinic is the largest family-run hospital group in Germany and provides specialist care in complex mental health diagnoses, orthopaedics and neurology.

It now provides health care at four UK locations, including York where it is working in collaboration with other mental health providers.

In January 2019, Schoen Clinic took over operations at The Retreat for its two inpatient eating disorder services and dissociative identity disorder service following local concern that they would be closed.

The Retreat in Heslington Road has been offering treatment on the site for more than 220 years.

“This building is starting to feel its age,” said Michele Paley who has worked in mental health for more than 30 years. She is responsible for the operational management of the mental health services for Schoen Clinic in England.

Schoen Clinic is proposing to build a new 46-bed modern facility and transfer current services with a small increase in beds, to treat patients suffering with complex diagnoses of eating and personality disorders. Schoen Clinic is working with commissioners and stakeholders to determine a third mental health service to operate in the new building.

It would be within the grounds of The Retreat, in a vacant, overgrown field set into a sloped hill close to the main building. The plans also include outdoor therapy space within an existing walled garden which is currently overgrown but would be brought back into use to provide a calm place.

Patients will be involved in designing and creating the sensory garden.

A joint letter has been secured with Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (Foss Park Hospital) establishing that Schoen Clinic’s services are distinct from the offer at Foss Park.

The healthcare facility would secure about 160 high-quality mental health jobs in York.

“When it is built it will be a purpose-built, state-of-the-art mental health provision for local people to access specialist services,” said Michele.

“It will be a safe space, a stand-alone facility. It will provide employment for local people across clinical and non-clinical services. There will be opportunities for people to work in support services, administration, catering, house keeping, for people from all walks of life. Where possible we will make sure it is York residents.”

She said there would also be opportunities for people to progress their careers there as well.

“When it is ready we would like people to come and have a look and help to reduce the stigma around mental health. It doesn’t look like an institution. You will see a homely environment. We have single en-suite bedrooms, warm communal spaces, and people have privacy.”

She added: “People will be here for a period of months. It is not their home; we want people to transition back to their home. But while they are here we want it to be pleasant and homely, not institutional.”

If the application is approved, Schoen Clinic would expect to start work on the site in 2020, and it would take 12 to 18 months to complete.

“A lot of mental health services are delivered in facilities like these but from experience, and my personal aspiration, we would deliver a better service in a purpose-built unit. There would be better outcomes for patients and commissioners.”

The eating disorder facility would be for women, aged 18 and over.

“When we took over the service was full. There’s a consistent demand for in-patient beds,” said Michele.