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Willow Ward showcases its unique service

A Southern Health Assessment and Treatment Unit (ATU) based at a Southampton hospital has been highlighting its efforts in helping people with complex learning disabilities and challenging behaviours return to the community.

Sensory Integration Suite - Willow

It’s after a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) looked at the progress of an action plan to move people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour out of hospital. The report focuses on ATUs and whilst acknowledging it is a difficult task, the NAO says more needs to be done to get people back into the community.

Willow Ward, an ATU based at Moorgreen Hospital in West End, Southampton, opened its doors to BBC Breakfast earlier this week so they could find out more about the service. Provided by Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, the unit supports people with complex learning disabilities who also have difficult to manage behaviours which can't be assessed or treated safely in community based settings.

The six-bed unit opened in 2012 and is supported by a team of highly trained learning disability specialist staff, including nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists.

Simon Tarrant, Willow Ward Manager, says: “Here at Willow, we offer a really unique service, totally focused on the individual needs of those living on the ward. They live independently; everyone has their own room in which they’re surrounded by their personal belongings. 

“Willow provides a safe environment in which an individual’s needs can be met and their behaviours understood. We’re committed to delivering the ‘Positive Behaviour Support’ approach, which is a person centred way of working which focuses upon providing supportive, nurturing environments and teaching the person new coping skills such as anger management. This model enables people with complex learning disabilities to have successful lives in the community, which is where they belong.”

Willow was the first ATU in the country to have a sensory integration suite. Some people with learning or behavioural difficulties may behave in a certain way because of a conflict in their brain caused by the way they experience movement, sound, light or touch. This suite allows staff to help identify better ways of coping with that conflicting information in the brain, perhaps through play or movement.

Simon adds: “We set up detailed daily activity plans tailored for each person on the ward. This includes opportunities to get involved with everyday chores such as cooking, cleaning and food shopping, plus sessions such as psychology, occupational or art therapy. We also like to develop and support an individual’s own hobbies and interests, for example one person living on the ward often goes fishing.  Some people have also achieved employment opportunities during their time with us.

“Our ultimate aim as soon as someone comes to Willow is to help them develop alternative, positive skills to deal with their challenging behaviour which allows them to safely return to the community.”