TWO wards are being closed at Wycombe Hospital this week as part of a controversial NHS shake-up in Bucks.

Specialist staff in wards 3b and 6b - both in the tower block at Queen Alexandra Road - are transferring to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, as part of plans agreed earlier this year.

This means patients needing an overnight stay for acute medicine for older people, diabetes, respiratory or gastroenterology services will be now be directed to Stoke Mandeville.

About 90 patients per week will be affected, but health bosses say the move is aimed to “ensure patients continue to receive safe and high quality services”.

Focussing staff in fewer locations is seen as a more cost-effective way of delivering specialist care – though health chiefs argue also it will also improve care by increasing the presence of senior doctors on the wards.

However, campaigners still reeling from the recent loss of Wycombe Hospital’s A&E and maternity wards have criticised the plans - arguing a town of Wycombe’s size should warrant a ‘fully-functioning’ acute hospital.

There are also fears that Stoke Mandeville will not be able to cope with the extra patients. The number of beds at Stoke will remain the same, but health chiefs say this fits in with drives to reduce the time patients spend in hospital and to deliver more care at home.

Bosses stress that medical outpatients can still be seen at Wycombe Hospital, in a new assessment unit, while a ‘step-down’ ward has been created on 5b – for inpatients who do not require as much attention from specialist doctors.

Wycombe Hospital also retains some specialist services such as heart attack and stroke care.

The latest changes follow the closure of Wycombe’s emergency room last month – which has been replaced by a Minor Injury and Illness Unit (see related links).

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the hospitals, said in a statement: “Staff have been planning and preparing over the past few months to ensure the changes happen as smoothly as possible.

“Prior to the ward moves, staff plan to discharge patients who are fit to leave hospital and only move those requiring ongoing care or treatment.

“Patients at Wycombe who require nursing care but no longer need specialist medical treatment will stay at Wycombe on the new step-down ward.

“Patients who need to transfer to Stoke Mandeville will be assessed thoroughly before being moved and will be accompanied by a member of staff in an ambulance. All patients and their next of kin are being kept informed throughout.”