A SPECIALIST doctor has urged health chiefs not to 'close' a hospital ward which was named after him and his father - saying a 50-year-old centre of excellence would be lost.

The 12-bed 'Wilkinson Ward' has been put 'under review' by Amersham Hospital, which says it is considering whether dermatology patients can be seen as day cases, without needing an overnight stay.

Though the hospital last week insisted a proposal had not yet been made, Dr John Wilkinson, a former senior consultant in the department, understands there are plans for “the inpatient unit to close and be replaced by a day care centre”.

The 64-year-old retired from his job at Amersham four years ago and the ward was later named after him and his father Darrell - who between them developed Bucks' dermatology services over more than half a century.

Dr Wilkinson, who lives in Oxfordshire and works part-time at a private hospital, fears the loss of beds would mean inpatients with skin conditions are placed on general medical wards at Stoke Mandeville.

He said: “It is one of the last dermatology specialist wards in the country, and that's why it's come under attack.

“If the ward goes the worry is you then lose that core of nursing expertise and knowledge. The problem with having four beds on a medical ward is the general nurses don't have the expertise, and patients can find they get a little bit neglected.

“It would certainly reduce the quality of care. It's a pity because there's been 50 years of superb care for Bucks patients and it's been nationally and internationally recognised.”

And he warned that patients could also be put at risk by putting dermatology beds on a general ward.

He said: “Severe leg ulcers require specialist expertise and are a risk of infection to other patients. Then, Eczema patients are at risk of shedding germs into the environment, but are also at increased risk themselves of picking up infections.

“This is why side rooms and/or a dedicated ward or bay is so important. That was one of the reasons dermatology was kept separate.”

Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust (BHT), which runs the hospital, says the Wilkinson Ward is often only half full and improvements in technology mean less patients need to stay in overnight.

A number of the ward's regular patients have contacted the Bucks Free Press in the last two weeks, saying they depend heavily on the staff and have often stayed for a period of weeks to be treated.

But Dr Wilkinson suspects money and politics could also be behind the moves, saying: “I think the trust is attempting to be seen to be trying to save money in the current squeeze.

“It's been a Rolls Royce of dermatology services and maybe we can only afford a Mini. But you wonder really if it will save any money. I suspect if it was looked over by an accountant these savings may well be elusive.

“It will be a disparate service with patients turning up at different places and your stretching your expertise round different areas. I hope that it is not all just a political gesture and that dermatology is not just a sacrificial lamb.”

The trust did not respond to the points made by Dr Wilkinson.

LINDA PURCELL, from Milton Keynes, has a chronic skin condition called pustular psoriasis and has been a regular inpatient at the Wilkinson Ward since 2004.

The 58-year-old said: “Patients come from all over the country for this ward – I've seen people from Devon and Jersey. My trust have got a clinic but they don't have an in-stay.

“I'm horrified that the beds could close. I've always had the ward as that back-up if my condition starts going really bad.

“Earlier this year I was there for four weeks and I looked like I'd been dipped in fat cooking oil. My skin turns to burns and then weeps and bleeds. I was in so much pain I just wanted to die – you can't treat that at a clinic.

“A day unit is no good for people like me. If you go to a general ward with open skin wounds you're susceptible to MRSA. The nurses and doctors are treating other patients but at Wilkinson's you are one on one.”