A CONTROVERSIAL closure of overnight beds on a specialist dermatology ward looks set to go ahead after hospital chiefs received backing from county councillors.

Amersham Hospital is planning to move the 12 inpatient beds out of its ‘almost unique’ Wilkinson Ward - which would continue to operate as a day care unit from 8am - 5pm.

Hospital chiefs say new medicines and treatment plans mean fewer patients with skin diseases require an overnight stay - meaning three quarters of the beds have been empty in recent months.

They want to create a ‘home ward’ at Stoke Mandeville Hospital for the more serious dermatology cases with daily visits from specialist staff.

The changes are also expected to save thousands of pounds a month, as a 24-hour staff rota will no longer be needed in the Amersham ward.

Last year the plans were criticised by Dr John Wilkinson, a former senior consultant in the department, after whom the ward is jointly named.

The 65-year-old told the Bucks Free Press the changes would reduce the quality of care and warned a 50-year-old centre of excellence would be lost (see related links).

And when the plans were presented to Bucks County Council earlier this month, Cllr Richard Pushman said: "Are you not fragmenting the service? With the policy of having specialist units in a given hospital it seems this is contrary to it because you are fragmenting it."

Lesley Perkin, a strategy director at Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the hospitals, said dermatology patients who are ‘very sick’ already go to Stoke Mandeville as they also need input from general medics, who are not available at Amersham.

So, the changes would affect ‘less sick’ patients who still need an overnight stay, which is only about one or two per week, Ms Perkin added.

She said the current set-up at Amersham is almost unique in England because "we haven’t caught up with modern dermatology", adding the new arrangements match those at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London - which has the nationally recognised centre of excellence.

Ms Perkin said 62 patients who had expressed concern about the changes had been consulted, and most had been supportive of the plans once they were fully explained.

County councillors on the Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee have supported the changes, which are likely to go ahead in the New Year after a formal consultation with staff.