HEALTH bosses have been condemned by a watchdog for their decision to close two wards for the elderly at St Albans City Hospital.

North West Herts Community Health Council (CHC) says it is "disturbed and disappointed" that St Albans and Hemel Hempstead NHS Trust has decided to shut down the hospital's remaining two wards for elderly patients without carrying out full consultation.

Chief officer Heather Rutt met with St Albans MP Kerry Pollard and Hemel Hempstead MP Tony McWalter on Monday and urged them to fight for consultation before the wards are closed.

She said: "We have met with the MPs and expressed our concerns as we believe the closure will be harmful to elderly people because there is already pressure on services at Hemel.

"This also throws a question mark over the future of St Albans City Hospital as more and more services are being taken away."

Mrs Rutt believes the trust's failure to carry out consultation also undermines West Hertfordshire Health Authority's promise to take the public's views on board before making major decisions over the future of health services later this year.

She said: "It is underhand because we have gone along with the health authority's inter trust collaboration, which has made it repeatedly clear that the local community will have a chance to say what they feel should be done about health services.

"To propose closing these wards in St Albans in April, before proper consultation, must pre-empt the possibility of having a proper discussion with the public over health services."

A spokesman for St Albans and Hemel Hempstead NHS Trust denied the ward closure would reduce services, claiming elderly people benefit from being at home rather than in hospital.

He said: "We have been extremely successful in reducing waiting times and lengths of stay for elderly people during the past few months, partly through the introduction of the new medical assessment ward at Hemel Hempstead.

"The current proposals represent a change in the way services are provided to make them more suitable to the health needs of the local elderly population.

"One of the vacated wards on the St Albans site will be used to provide rehabilitation services, thus providing a more local service for St Albans people.

"In addition, discussions are being held about the possibility of using the remaining ward for beds administered by GPs so that patients who do not need a high level of medical intervention can be admitted to St Albans.

"Negotiations are proceeding with the health authority, GPs and the CHC on the timing and exact nature of the proposals for elderly care at St Albans and Hemel Hempstead."

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