COUNCILLORS are calling for the opportunity to scrutinise the company set to open a neuropsychiatric facility in Darlington within weeks.

A 12-bed unit being opened in January by Cygnet Healthcare will mostly house men affected by neurological conditions where challenging behaviour is the leading impairment, along with some who may be detained under the Mental Health Act or may have a forensic history.

Described as a “safe and secure place to aid recovery”, Cygnet St Williams – which can take NHS referrals from across the UK - will provide placements and treatment for those with acquired brain injuries and conditions including Pick’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease.

There is reportedly unmet demand for such facilities in the region and it is hoped that the hospital on Cornwall Avenue will help to plug the gap and provide much needed support, while bringing 50 jobs to the area.

However, Cygnet has faced criticism elsewhere for significant failures at care facilities that prompted negative headlines and led to calls for the NHS to sever ties with the company.

It operates a string of more than a hundred private hospitals around the UK, four of which are currently judged by the Care Quality Commission as requiring improvement. In Darlington, its Victoria House facility has a good rating, as does its hospital in Harrogate.

In recent years, Cygnet has repeatedly come under fire, with concerns raised in 2017 with then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt over its ability to properly care for vulnerable patients.

Darlington’s Conservative leader Heather Scott is among those who believe there should have been more scrutiny prior to the hospital opening.

The Northern Echo understands that the company has fulfilled its legal obligations in relation to the opening of the Darlington facility and had conducted market research with CCGs within a hundred mile radius to determine demand for the service.

Neurological business development director Rachael Chamberlin said Cygnet offered a high standard of treatment and insisted that damning CQC reports for some facilities did not reflect the overall quality of care offered by the company.

She said no safeguarding concerns were anticipated and that St William’s would offer North-East people treatment close to home and would be monitored by the CQC.

Spokespeople for Darlington’s Clinical Commissioning Group and the local mental health trust, Tees, Esk and Wear Valley, claimed that they had not been party to any discussions with Cygnet while Darlington’s council granted planning permission for a car park on-site but did not have to be consulted otherwise.

Cabinet member Cllr Andy Scott said that he welcomed the opening of St William’s but Cllr Heather Scott said she would be querying it at the next meeting of the council’s health scrutiny committee.

She said: “There are concerns about the company’s history and I think there should have been consultation with the committee or at least information given.

“While I accept that there are people with these kinds of problems who need to be treated, we need to be assured in Darlington that we are getting a reputable organisation and I’m concerned that we were not told anything about this facility opening.”

Tory councillor Gerald Lee added: “I think investigations should have been held into who these people are, what their history is and if they’re the right ones to look after those with major health problems.

“There should have been consultations in the early days, they should have presented themselves to health scrutiny and there should have been the opportunity to check them out, for the reassurance of the mothers and fathers who will take their loved ones there for treatment.”

Cygnet hospital director Paul Jones called for better understanding of how brain injuries can transform a person’s character, saying: “This hospital is not a secure unit - these are fathers, sons and brothers who through some accident in their life have been injured.

“They need kindness, care and to be part of the community, close to their loved ones and with no stress.

“This is about giving positive hope for the future and a lot of families will be absolutely over the moon to know that their loved one is being nursed back to recovery.”

  • For more information about job roles at Cygnet St William’s, email or call 0121 728 8111.