CAMPAIGNERS have reacted with anger – but not surprise – to the decision to close Acer Ward at Hinchingbrooke permanently.

The joint board of NHS Cambridgeshire and NHS Peterborough formally agreed to close Huntingdonshire's only acute mental health facility at a meeting last Wednesday (March 28), despite a groundswell of public and civic opinion against the move.

The decision was widely believed to have been a foregone conclusion, and a recent three-month public consultation was seen as the organisation merely going through the motions, according to campaigners who wanted to retain the ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon.

More than 2,000 members of the public signed a petition against the closure. The ward was shut “temporarily” in October after the National Clinical Advisory Team advised NHS Cambridgeshire that it was unsafe – because 14 out of 33 jobs on the ward were vacant.

Since then patients requiring a hospital stay have been sent to the Cavell Centre in Peterborough.

Campaigner Liz Stokes said: “Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust and NHS Cambridgeshire's 'carry on regardless' stance demonstrates a complete and utter disregard for the views expressed by service users, carers and other concerned members of the public.

“While those at the top pat themselves on the back for 'transforming mental health services', it will be the people of Huntingdonshire who need to access inpatient mental healthcare for themselves or a loved one who will have to live with the impacts of their decision.

“Closing Acer is not a step forward, but a big step back.”

A mental health patient with bipolar disorder, who did not wish to be named, added: “I've lost something that helped me and so many people so much.”

And St Ives town councillor Jonathan Salt, who campaigns on local health issues, told The Hunts Post: “What is shocking is that this decision was taken by health chiefs in May last year. So why did we have a consultation if this decision had already been made?”

A spokesman for NHS Cambridgeshire said the closure was supported by GPs and Cambridgeshire County Council's health overview and scrutiny committee and that the original proposals were “significantly modified” as a result of feedback.

“The capacity of the local community-based crisis resolution team has been increased by 40 per cent and its base has been re-located back to Huntingdon from Peterborough. These steps will, we believe, address the main concerns about locally-accessible and responsive services in Huntingdon that were raised during the consultation.”