HEALTH chiefs in Bolton have hit back at criticisms of plans to close 50 mental health beds at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Proposals from Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust will see three wards at the hospital replaced with extra beds at Woodlands Hospital in Little Hulton.

The trust wants fewer people to be admitted to mental health wards and instead receive care in their homes.

The shake-up will mean home care can be provided seven days per week in Bolton rather than five, thanks to a £560,000 investment in Bolton’s services.

The NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the statutory body set to make the final decision on the changes, says it has received a lot of positive feedback on the proposals.

Chief officer Su Long said: “There has been some negative reaction to this from carers and councillors, but our consultation period has received plenty of positive feedback.

"This is about investing to make savings later, as well as stopping people being housed in potentially distressing mental health wards unless it’s absolutely necessary.”

The CCG’s move comes after a meeting of Bolton Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee which had to be adjourned when Kearsley councillor Liam Irving became embroiled in a heated exchange with a member of the public who had interrupted him.

The 15-bed Oak Ward at the Royal Bolton and the 20-bed elderly Linden Ward will shut by October, while Hazelwood Ward, which has 15 beds for older people, will close by October next year.

A £5.86 million investment is set to make Woodlands Hospital a centre of excellence for older people with dementia and complex mental health conditions, with the axed elderly beds at the Royal Bolton to be relocated there.

The trust expects to make £2.1 million worth of savings over two years by closing the wards.

Critics argue the changes will damage the quality of mental health care in Bolton, especially at night, while relatives and friends of elderly patients say Woodlands Hospital will be less accessible.

The CCG will make a decision, after the public consultation ends on March 30, at its board meeting in May.

Ms Long added: “If we are to continue to invest in new services — such as the rapid assessment interface and discharge team at the Royal Bolton and the memory assessment centre — we must provide current services more efficiently.

“The proposed changes make more investment of this kind possible in the future.”

Dr Martyn Fletcher, clinical lead for mental health at the CCG, said: “I believe this investment in mental health care will respond to long held concerns about the responsiveness of our current services when a patient in a crisis situation. 

"As a GP, I know that many patients have not been able to receive the support they need to remain in their own homes and avoid a hospital admission. 

"These plans would give a massive boost to community based care, whilst still retaining some mental health beds for those who need them.”