HOSPITAL chiefs have been urged to ditch plans to close a vital palliative care ward amid warnings the move would be “a disaster” for residents in East Lothian.
Medics were informed last week that Ward 2 at Belhaven Hospital, in Dunbar, could close by the autumn as it fails to meet modern standards for infection control or patient privacy.
The move has sparked fears that the future of the whole hospital is now in doubt, as plans for the new £72 million East Lothian Community Hospital, in Haddington, move ahead.
Concerns have been raised that patients would have to travel to Edinburgh for treatment before the community hospital is built, making it more difficult for families to visit.
Hundreds of people have already signed a petition against the closure of the 12-bed ward, which offers respite care for elderly and vulnerable patients who are not well enough to be discharged home.
One signatory described the ward as “the jewel in the crown” of elderly care, while another said staff offered “amazing care” to her mother in her final days.
Councillor Paul McLennan, SNP representative for Dunbar and East Linton, who started the petition, said: “The future of Belhaven Hospital itself is in doubt following plans to close Ward 2 at the hospital. The proposed closure of the ward which is used for palliative and respite care would be a disaster for the Dunbar and district area. Many local families have used the facility and the care is second to none. Dunbar has a growing population and we should be catering for that.”
He accused health chiefs of failing to consult the local community on the proposals, which he fears could mean some people have to travel further for respite care.
Plans for the new East Lothian Community Hospital, on the former Roodlands Hospital site, were rubber-stamped earlier this year but construction is not due to begin until early 2017.
An East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP) spokesman said discussions had been held over merging Ward 2 with another ward within Belhaven Hospital.
They said: “The Ward 2 environment does not meet modern standards for patient privacy and dignity or control of infection. Because of this we have only been able to use around half the beds for GP patients.
“Ward 3 is more modern and would afford patients their own rooms and the possibility of more beds for GP patients.
“No date has been set for any change. We are now looking to set up a working group, including GP and staff representation, to take this forward.
“Belhaven will continue to provide the services it does currently – nursing home and long-term care facilities and GP beds.”
A public meeting was due to be held last night on the proposed closure.