HINCHINGBROOKE Hospital has begun the process of closing the three wards furthest from the front of the hospital to take patients closer to medical services. As patients of the general medical Larch Ward are discharged, new patients will be admitted instead to extra beds in other wards at the "front" of the hospital. The move has been on the cards for many months, as The Hunts Post reported last summer. It has been made possible by the closure of three wards in the main complex, allowing other wards to take on extra beds. Poplar Ward, the day-case elective surgery unit, closed over a year ago when that work was transferred to the newly-completed treatment centre. Rowan, the gynaecological ward, closed in late summer, with cases being transferred to take up spare capacity in the treatment centre. And the children's ward, Holly, will shut early next year when the adjacent children's centre, currently under construction, is opened. This will free up space to close the other two remote wards and release the southern end of the site for other purposes. Hospital managers are talking to planners at Huntingdonshire District Council about the future use of that part of the site. Selling it would go some way towards reducing the burgeoning debt. The extra beds needed when Larch closes - the last patient is expected to have left by mid-December - are being added to Cedar and Oak Wards (increased by six beds each) and Lime Ward (13 extra beds). Chestnut Ward loses four beds as part of the rationalisation. The net loss of seven beds is accommodated by changes to the way some patients are treated, such as cellulitis (inflamation of under-skin tissue) patients now seen as outpatients rather than admitted. Staff are currently being consulted on which wards they would prefer to transfer to. There is no need for redundancies, managers stress. Cedar and Oak, the other two remote wards, will close in due course, when alternative space becomes available at the front of the hospital.