MENTAL health patients and their families will be forced to make longer journeys for services when the adult inpatient ward closes at Amersham's Haleacre unit.

Concerns over the longer journeys have been raised by the county's Overview and Scrutiny Committee for Health (OSC) and health workers' union Unison after the decision to close the unit's Frith ward was agreed last week.

OSC says the closure will make accessing services more difficult as most of Frith's facilities will be transferred to Aylesbury's Tindal Centre. It has told Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust (OBMH) to draw up plans to help families make the longer journeys.

Meanwhile, the Bucks branch of Unison says it is concerned at the overall future of Haleacre, in Whielden Street, and the extra pressure that could fall on staff who have to bridge the gap left by Frith.

OBMH took the decision at a board meeting last Wednesday where it said Frith was "unfit for purpose" and needed £1.1 million spent on it to remove areas where patients could potentially harm themselves.

Mike Appleyard, OSC chairman, told a district health meeting on Monday that he accepted the move but had his reservations.

He said: "The biggest problem with moving services from Haleacre are the difficulties of friends and family getting to see patients. That is where the biggest issue is and I have to say it is something the NHS seriously has to address. It is not one that is being addressed."

As the closure is ahead of schedule, OSC has also asked OBMH to explain how it will manage a shortfall of beds after the 17-bed Frith ward is shut. The trust expects to shut Frith around the end of July and has proposed increasing beds at two wards at the Tindal Centre.

Meanwhile, the future of Haleacre's intensive care ward, Kimble, remains in doubt after a report proposed that the service for both counties could be provided at Littlemore Hospital, Oxford. A new ward is set to open there in August.

In a letter, OSC requested that the trust looks into how patients would access the Oxford site on a case by case basis.

It added: "The OSC would recommend that the trust instigate a series of stakeholder meetings to outline proposals. These would look in detail at the numbers of individuals involved and would address issues such as accessibility for visitors and the care pathways for patients once they are discharged from the unit.

"For Buckinghamshire patients this could be a potentially disruptive process, resulting in patients moving to a number of different locations across the two counties for their care and this would need to be considered by the stakeholder group."

The mental health service changes come after a consultation in 2005 that recomm-ended all inpat-ient services in Bucks be moved to a single site in Ayles-bury.