MY recent visit to North Moor House – the new community health hub in Northallerton – was a really positive experience.

The opening of the £5.5m centre off Darlington Road marks the culmination of a journey to a more responsive and community-based approach to looking after people with mental health problems.

That process began with the closure of the mental health wards in the Friarage Hospital in 2019 – on the face of it bad news.

But in my discussions with health service managers about the changes it quickly became clear they were about providing a better service to patients – driven by what the medical professionals knew worked best for them.

The switch from treatment in a hospital to care at home was also driven by what patients wanted.

Despite a greater knowledge and understanding of mental health issues, there is still a stigma about treatment in a hospital setting. That dates from historically-rooted perceptions about people who were mentally-ill and how they used to be looked after in isolation, in large institutions often dating from the Victorian era.

The shift away from institutional treatment in psychiatric hospitals is part of a radical transformation of mental health services over the last 30 years.

That has been down to a growing belief among doctors that treatment in a hospital setting could actually make matters worse and the preferences of patients – who feared that stigma and wanted to have the support of family and friends in their local community to help them get well again.

As these changes have been implemented locally, I have been in close contact with the health managers making sure that the switch in treatment strategy was properly resourced and community teams had been well established from the beginning.

I have challenged them on occasions to demonstrate that their strategy would work in practice and that has proved to be the case. For example, working with the mental health charity MIND I obtained assurances about the availability of crisis intervention and appropriate places of safety for very ill patients.

Also, there has been a 50 per cent reduction in the use of inpatient beds as more patients have been successfully looked after at home by the expanded community mental health team.

North Moor House is the final piece in the jigsaw – providing high quality facilities for patients and the seven teams working with them. Although it is not a hospital it provides up-to-standard clinical areas for outpatients to receive a wide range of treatments and therapies.

Meeting the enthusiastic North Moor teams, I was particularly pleased to hear about the improved service for children and young people which had previously been based in Brompton Road. I had met the team there a couple of years ago and it was clear the premises were not ideal, especially when demand was growing.

It was also heartening to see how the hub has been designed with input from patients and carers to make sure the building met their needs. I certainly found it a welcoming, light and airy environment.

Meanwhile the space freed up in the Friarage Hospital has been put to good use. The ground floor area has been redesigned for the occupational, wheelchair and physiotherapy services and the first floor is to be the home for the hospital’s new £5m endoscopy and urology diagnostic hub which is set to open this summer.