CHANGES to mental health services could lead to a north/south divide in the way care is provided across Cumbria, it has been claimed.

But bosses have promised that they won’t agree to any plan unless they will improve services for patients in all parts of the county.

They also stressed it is not a “done deal”, and that there would be no sudden changes - taking about two years to implement the final plan that is agreed.

The concerns were raised at the annual meeting of the Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust , which was held at the Stoneybeck Inn near Penrith yesterday.

It was a chance for patients, staff and the wider public to hear about the performance of the two trusts over the past 12 months, and put questions to board.

Several people used the meeting to express concerns about plans to overhaul mental health services throughout Cumbria.

Bosses are currently looking at all of the options, including linking up with specialist providers in the north east and Lancashire.

But there are fears such a move could result in a north/south divide, and a potential postcode lottery for Cumbrian patients.

Colin Ranshaw, a former Cumbria Partnership governor, said: “Mental health services have traditionally been delivered within the Cumbria County Council boundary.

“Now we have the possibility of inequity, with those countywide services being split between north and south Cumbria.”

Stephen Eames, chief executive of the two trusts, said it was a “really important issue”, and was something they would be working with commissioners and other providers to overcome.

He said: “I’m really clear in my own mind that whatever comes out of that has to be better than what we have had historically.

“This is an area that needs significant investment and development to create sustainable mental health services.”

Gary O’Hare, the new interim executive director of mental health and learning disabilities, said it was vital that mental health became part of a wider vision to join up services, creating an integrated care system.

“We want to detect mental health problems at an earlier stage and put in place those interventions at an earlier stage.

“We are also addressing waiting times. It isn’t always about more money. It’s about redeveloping services to make them more effective and responsive to service users,” he explained.

Linda Radcliffe, a public governor for Allerdale, warned: “If we divide services we are not going to get an equal playing field. We need to make sure that everyone has access to the appropriate care for them.

“What I’d like to have reassurance on is that everyone’s voice will be heard.”

Mr O’Hare said they want to engage with as many interested parties as possible.

He added that there was no “done deal”, and it would take two years to implement changes.