Mental health minister Ivan Lewis has questioned the effectiveness of the highly-regarded Henderson therapeutic community which campaigners are fighting to save.
Mr Lewis has doubted the “strength of evidence” for the Henderson Hospital in Surrey, which treats people diagnosed with personality disorder, and is set to close in March.
Former patients of the Henderson Hospital and staff are fighting the closure, and a Facebook group to rally support has been set up.
But in a parliamentary debate last week Mr Lewis said: “I have received no advice suggesting that the [Henderson] model is far superior to other clinical interventions for people with personality disorders….I know that there is a debate about the strength of the evidence for the interventions from the Henderson.
“There is no professional unanimity about whether its care model delivers outcomes so consistently that it would be superior to alternative interventions and models of care.”
Referrals to the unit have dwindled since commissioning was switched from the NHS nationally to local mental health trusts. Referrals decreased from 220 per year to 33 from April 2007 to January 2008.
In December, the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS trust said it could no longer afford to keep the Henderson open.
Henderson residents run the service in partnership with staff, and residents are not prescribed psychiatric drugs.
Mr Lewis has recommended that the Henderson merge with another therapeutic community, Cassel Hospital in Richmond, south west London.
But Liberal MP Paul Burston urged Mr Lewis to stop the closure. He said: “Unless the minister acts, the NHS is in danger of sleepwalking into the closure of this nationally and internationally-renowned service.”
Kath Lovell, a resident in the Henderson Hospital from 2003 to 2004 and project development manager for the charity, Borderline UK, said: “There are pediatric departments in most hospital trusts, but there will always be need for a specialist hospital like Great Ormond Street, I believe the same to be true with personality disorder and the Henderson.
“I implore for there to be solution that will secure a future for the Henderson that will ostensibly allow more lives to be changed for the better.”