Tailored autism care at new hospital unit

The staff team at the Mitford Unit, Northgate Hospital. It will take patients in from Monday.
The staff team at the Mitford Unit, Northgate Hospital. It will take patients in from Monday.

A new in-patient facility to support adults with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is opening at Northgate Hospital in Morpeth.

The £10million Mitford Unit, which will be run by Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, has a range of features to make it a supportive and caring place for those who need specialist care.

They include precise temperature and lighting controls for each living area to adjust the environment depending on patients’ needs, sound-proofing throughout the unit to help reduce noise sensitivity and curved walls and seating areas throughout to help people move about the unit with ease.

New technology is being used too, such as enabling patients to use Skype so they can be brought into meetings about their care, even if they are unable to attend in person.

As well as the 15 bedrooms, there is a sensory room, activity room, and therapy room, as well as a garden area, multi-faith room and a sanctuary and quiet space.

A visitors’ room will provide a comfortable space for people to meet with their families and a number of artworks – scenes of the Northumberland coastline – have been especially commissioned for the unit.

Mitford clinical nurse specialist, Helen Percival, said: “We will adapt the service around the patients’ needs, rather than them fitting into the service.

“This means we will be working very closely with individual families to make sure that they are fully involved in and in touch with their loved one’s care.

“We will also work closely with clinical commissioning groups prior to them coming into service and then carry out tailored assessments, so we can develop a positive behaviour support plan to help the individual with their daily living.

“Our aim with each patient is that they return to their families as soon as possible once the aims of admission have been achieved.

“There are low-stimulus environments and very specific features to help reduce anxiety for the people we support.”

The unit will take patients in from Monday and members of the public had the opportunity to see what it has to offer at open days last Thursday and Friday.

Work on creating it started back in June 2012, with people who use services, clinicians and architects working closely together to help make the design as user-friendly as possible.

ASD is a condition that affects social interaction, communication, interests and behaviour.

Ward manager Pamela McIntyre said: “The amount of positive feedback we’ve had has made us even more excited to welcome our patients here from next week.

“So many people have taken the time to visit us during the two open days and it’s been a pleasure to show them round such a well thought-out building.

“Our service at the unit is tailored to each individual’s needs and we have a very robust admission criteria for patients.”