THE women’s mental health ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, in Huntingdon, is set to close – but nobody yet knows when.

THE women's mental health ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, in Huntingdon, is set to close - but nobody yet knows when.

Health professionals and administrators agree that Hawthorn Ward, which is run not by the hospital trust but by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough's mental health trust, is no longer fit for purpose.

It no longer accepts male patients, because there are no acceptable facilities to separate them from females. And the facilities are shabby and not suited to 21st century treatment.

The mental health trust wanted to replace Hawthorn's services by beefed-up provision in patients' homes and extra services in nursing homes in the district.

But it has had to abandon its consultation on the issue because of new rules introduced since the General Election by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who is also MP for South Cambridgeshire.

The trust says the new Minister is insisting that all consultations meet four criteria: genuine engagement with the public and local authorities; clear clinical evidence to support the proposed change; the support of GPs and promotion of patient choice.

The stumbling block is garnering GP support, because each practice - in some instances each doctor - is an independently-contracted provider of services to the primary care trust, NHS Cambridgeshire. Although there are some historically-derived representative groups, such as Huntsdoc in Huntingdonshire, there is no equivalent county-wide body.

However, given the new Government's determination to make GPs responsible for millions of pounds of NHS cash and to do away with regional strategic health authorities and PCTs, family doctors probably have an incentive to set up a representative group to cover whatever local basis Mr Lansley eventually defines.

The mental health trust hopes to have resolved these issues within the next few weeks, so that the consultation can proceed and a proposed closure date can be identified for Hawthorn Ward, the spokesman said.