COMMUNITY leaders have backed a campaign to re-open an in-patient mental health facility in Huntingdon amid on-going protests at proposals to close it permanently.

Huntingdonshire District Councillors called on health bosses to re-think their plans for Acer Ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital following an overview and scrutiny committee meeting last week.

The 18-bed ward was temporarily closed in October after concerns were expressed for patient safety by clinical advisors. Under a re-structure plan devised by NHS Cambridgeshire and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, the beds are set to be transferred to the Cavell Centre in Peterborough.

But councillors feared the new proposals, due to be implemented in March, would leave patients at risk and cause transport problems for patients and visitors.

In a statement after the meeting, committee chairman Councillor Steve Criswell said: "I would like to thank members of the public who attended to share their concerns. Panel members found that very valuable.

"NHS representatives did not offer a robust case to support the closure of Acer Ward and no evidence was offered at the meeting to convince panel members that any benefits of moving to Peterborough would outweigh the loss of a valued local facility and the resulting burden of additional travel."

Committee member, Cllr Richard West added: "We want to protect services in Huntingdon. We feel that Huntingdon is a growing town. We don't think that patients should be expected to travel to Cambridge or Peterborough in stressful times.

"This is really hitting families very hard. The chairman and panel are united in doing everything we can to try and maintain services at Hinchingbrooke Hospital."

Members of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough joint scrutiny committee are also expected to criticise the proposals when they deliver their final report in the next few weeks.

Campaigner Liz Stokes welcomed the response from the district council. She said: "As continually voiced by service users, carers and other concerned members of the public, the value of a local inpatient ward and locally-based home treatment team is over and above the provision offered to the people of Huntingdonshire by these proposals.

"To consider that a travel strategy will solve any difficulties is to misunderstand the impact that being treated out of area will have on service users and their carers."

At a consultation meeting held on Wednesday, health bosses came under renewed fire as reports emerged of delays responding to calls by the home treatment therapy team.

The team lost its base at Acer Ward and was transferred to Peterborough in October. Since the move, families now say they have to wait longer for team members to visit when there is a crisis.

One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she had to wait nearly 20 hours after her son experienced a psychotic episode.

She said: "The crisis team since it has been transferred to Peterborough, doesn't work. Since Acer Ward has closed down, it is almost as if mental health service in Huntingdon has closed down."

Annette Newton, director of operations, said she would look to increase home treatment therapy team numbers.