THE mental health ward at Hinchingbrooke Hospital – Acer Ward – looks set to close permanently.

The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) has said it plans to use its resources to treat more people at home and in the community while anyone needing inpatient care will be sent to Peterborough or to its Fulbourn Hospital sites.

Jenny Raine, the trust's chief executive, said there would also be enhanced mental health care services at Hinchingbrooke's A&E department as part of its restructure.

Acer, which provides psychiatric care for adults and was at one stage a 20-bed ward, has already been temporarily closed, the trust said.

The number of inpatients has fallen, said Mrs Raine, and to ensure the safety of staff and patients, and the quality of treatment, plans had been made to move inpatient care and close Acer Ward to new admissions.

That happened last month, and the remaining patient was transferred from the ward last week to the Cavell Centre, in the grounds of the Edith Cavell Healthcare Campus in Peterborough - a purpose-built 104-bed mental health unit that opened in May 2009.

One Hunts Post reader, who wished to remain anonymous, described it as closure by stealth.

She said: "It concerns me a great deal that vulnerable people have to be sent such a long way for essential support and treatment, and that this will hugely effect their relatives and friends' ability to visit them at a time when they need them the most.

"Additionally, there is the issue of those first tentative, and often frightening, steps home after a long admission. It's a very long way home from Peterborough, especially if you don't have much support in your life or someone with a car to drive you.

"Is this like Hawthorn Ward all over again? I believe the NHS was heavily criticised for closure by stealth on that occasion."

The trust closed its ward for older people with psychiatric care at Hinchingbrooke - Hawthorn Ward - in November last year. The closure was criticised by trade unions as the consultation about the move did not end until December 31.

"I know money has to be saved, but it would appear, at times, that our hospital is slowly disappearing before our eyes," she added.

A spokesman for the trust confirmed that one patient had been transferred to Peterborough

"The situation is that, because the future of the ward has been uncertain for some time, it has been difficult to recruit staff," she said. "We stopped taking admissions and the one patient who was left was going to be on his own. The clinical team took the decision that it would be better for him to be in the Cavell Centre."

A consultation about the plans is due to start later this month and last for three months. It will be run by the PCT, which commissions services.