WARDS at Hinchingbrooke Hospital that were due to be sold off as part of the rescue plan are to remain open and get a £1.8million facelift. The NHS Cambridgeshire-backed rescue plan had envisaged reducing Hinchingbrooke s workload by between 20 and 25 per

WARDS at Hinchingbrooke Hospital that were due to be sold off as part of the rescue plan are to remain open and get a £1.8million facelift.

The NHS Cambridgeshire-backed rescue plan had envisaged reducing Hinchingbrooke's workload by between 20 and 25 per cent, transferring that treatment into GPs' surgeries and health centres across the district by this year.

That would have meant the Medical Assessment and Rehabilitation Unit (Mars) at the back of the hospital, which also houses three wards and part of the Cambridgeshire Community Services (CSS) activity - the provider arm of NHS Cambridgeshire - could be sold off.

But Hinchingbrooke's workload has increased as GPs continue to believe their patients' best interests are served by referring them to the Huntingdon hospital.

At the same time, the Government has demanded that by April next year all ward sleeping accommodation must be single-sex and, for the sake of their privacy and dignity, patients should not have to pass opposite-sex beds on their way to bathroom facilities.

Hinchingbrooke was therefore faced with the option of closing the non-compliant wards in Mars, making them single-sex - which for clinical reasons it could not do - or investing cash in bringing them up to the same modern standards as the six fully-refurbished wards at the front of the hospital.

It considered a dozen options before deciding that the best value came from the £1.81million upgrade of the 20-bed medical assessment unit and refurbishment of orthopaedic Birch Ward and temporary medical Lavender Ward, each of which has 30 beds.

"There was always the issue that, even if the acute work went down, you would still have to find somewhere else for CCS and the mental health trust," Hinchingbrooke chief executive Mark Millar told The Hunts Post. "But we are seeing more patients than two years ago and doing more work not less, which is why we have a ward still open at the back of the hospital [on the Mars site].

"This is the only way we can be compliant by next year, given the current workload," he added. "The hospital continues to thrive."

While it was accepted by the hospital trust that this proposal does not fit with the publically declared option strategy [for reducing the overall volume of activity], the business case for investment demonstrated the most timely, cost-effective solution for delivering a fully-complaint hospital by April 1, 2010, senior managers say in a paper to be considered by the hospital trust's board tomorrow (Thursday).

The Government combined its requirement for single-sex compliance by next year with a £100million fund to help hospitals upgrade. But Hinchingbrooke missed out.

"The Secretary of State [for health] and the strategic health authority decided not to give us any money, so we have to use our own capital budget. It would have been nice to get some help with it," Mr Millar said.

Larger hospitals had been able to plan for compliance by making wards single-sex. That is not an option at Hinchingbrooke, one of England's smallest district general hospitals. Instead, it has to match bays with en suite facilities in each of the refurbished wards to the gender of the patients referred for treatment.

Because the caseload has not decreased as planned, the hospital and NHS Cambridgeshire, the primary care trust that pays for the treatment Hinchingbrooke provides, will have to "refresh" the recovery plan - thrown off course by a combination of GPs' views of what is best for their patients, improved hygiene and isolation facilities, the need for flexibility to cope with epidemics in the community and the new single-sex requirements.