HEALTH chiefs have approved plans that could see three mental health wards close at the Royal Bolton Hospital.

Patients, carers and mental health workers staged a protest outside the Friends Meeting House yesterday ahead of Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) decision.

Proposals from Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMW) 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.

Campaigners raised concerns about the reduced access to hospital beds for vulnerable patients and the extra strain the changes could put on carers.

Bosses from GMW insisted hospital beds will not be shut until the home-based service is up and running across Bolton and Salford. Protester Karen Pendlebury told the board: “My concern is that if these beds are lost, we are not going to get them back and we are going to have really big problems.

“I’m worried that people will lose their lives — especially the elderly.”

Another campaigner, who did not wish to be named, said: “I am a mother of someone who committed suicide in Bolton and a bed was not available. Had my son been admitted to hospital, I would still have him now.”

Dr Wirin Bhatiani, lead GP for the Bolton CCG, said: “Beds will not be closed if there is still a demand for those beds. Anyone who needs a mental health bed in Bolton will get one.”

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.

Fifty beds will be available at Woodlands Hospital, which Bolton patients will share with Salford.

The new home-based team will provide three visits a day — each lasting up to an hour — to patient’s homes.

Transport for carers to the Woodlands site will be provided by a free shuttle bus with flexible visiting hours.

The mental health trust expects to make £2.1 million worth of savings over two years by closing the wards.A final decision on bed cuts will be made in September.