HUNTINGDONSHIRE’S mental health service could be hit with yet more cuts even if the district’s in-patient facility is closed permanently, NHS bosses have admitted.

NHS Cambridgeshire's head of mental health, John Ellis, warned changes to the service may not end with the controversial mothballing of Acer Ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, which has also seen the loss of a locally-based home treatment team.

Mr Ellis was speaking to an angry crowd of 40 protesters that had gathered at the Oak Tree Centre in Huntingdon to denounce plans to axe the 25-bed ward.

He said: “We cannot say in the future we will not be required to make more savings. These are the savings over the next three years. I would love to say 'That's it', but it would be disingenuous of me to say that.”

He defended the decision to shut the ward temporarily in September because staff shortages had rendered it unsafe. However, the move was condemned by former and current patients.

Joanna, one of the last patients to be treated at Acer Ward, said her recovery was affected by her move to the Cavell Centre in Peterborough.

“It really impacted on my visits. I could not take home leave, I couldn't take accompanied leave because I had no visitors and no staff had the time to take me.”

Campaigner Liz Stokes, 32, accused health bosses of undermining the service at Acer Ward. She said: “You managed to undermine the service so that when the visit [by National Clinical Advisory Trust] was made they were able to say it was unsafe.

“It feels like today we are not talking about proposals but we are reflecting on something that has happened. These changes are going to affect people with serious and long-term mental illness.”

Claire, a current service user, complained that under the new arrangement home visits had been replaced with phone calls.

And Pat, whose niece was treated at Acer Ward, said a phone-based service left users feeling like they were talking to the electricity board.

There was also criticism from a member of the community mental health team based at the Newtown Centre. She warned of a drop in the quality of care as staff could no longer pick up patients from Peterborough because of the extra travel time.

CFPT's director of operations, Annette Newton, who put the current proposals together with officials from NHS Cambridgeshire, said she would look again at home treatment arrangements.

INFORMATION: A second meeting organised by NHS Cambridgeshire to discuss the consultation proposals will be held on January 4 between 6pm and 8pm at Room G.93, Oak Tree Centre, Oak Drive, Huntingdon.

In addition, Huntingdonshire District Council's Overview and Scrutiny Panel (Social Well-Being) is inviting people to make their views heard by attending a panel meeting at 7pm in the Civic Suite, Pathfinder House, Huntingdon, on January 3 or writing to the panel chairman c/o Democratic Services, Pathfinder House, St Mary's Street, Huntingdon PE29 3TN or e-mailing Democratic.Services@huntingdonshire.gov.uk

To sign a petition against the closure visit the News Centre, RSPCA or British Heart Foundation shops in St Ives, Tesco or Bonnets in Somersham, or search 'Acer ward closure' at www.petitiononline.co.uk

A facebook page and group against the closure has also been set up called Save Acer Ward.

● Some surnames have been omitted to protect the identity of current and former patients of Acer Ward.