HEALTH officials have revealed they are looking at plans to close separate hospital wards for adult and elderly mental health patients and replace them with a single, upgraded ward.

Tees, Esk Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, which runs mental health services across the region, said the proposals were at an early stage.

Currently, mental health patients from North Yorkshire are treated on two wards at the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton.

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Ward 14 is for older patients and ward 15 is for adult patients.

Falling demand for beds combined with a growing need to provide more treatment in people’s homes – and in residential homes – means that the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys trust is looking at reducing bed numbers on both wards in the short term and looking at providing more modern facilities on a single ward in the future.

A spokeswoman for the trust said ward 14 was being reduced from 14 beds down to nine while ward 15 was going down from 15 to 11.

“We are reducing beds on these wards in accordance with national guidelines and local need. This is because more and more people are getting the treatment they need at home rather than in hospital,” she added.

Resources freed up by a reduction in beds at the Friarage Hospital would be invested in community services, including greater investment in liaison services which work with residential homes, she said.

Funds released by the changes would also be used to improve mental health services at the hospital’s accident and emergency unit, particularly when patients who selfharm are brought in.

John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said: “I am not convinced that this is not just a money-saving exercise. They are trying to save money to balance their budgets dressed up as a suggested improvement when yet again it will be a backward step, a downgrade of the facilities of the Friarage.”

He said he did not accept the argument that demand for mental health beds was falling in the rural area served by the Friarage.

The trust spokeswoman said the service was “moving away from a reliance on hospital beds” and looking at the possibility of replacing the two existing mental health wards with a single ward catering for patients of all ages.

This would allow the trust to look at providing a better quality environment for patients on a single ward, she added.

Recently, the trust told GPs in North Yorkshire that work to reduce waiting times in the last two years had had “dramatic results.”

Nineteen out of 20 patients referred by GPs for mental health assesment and treatment are now seen within four weeks, half the time that patient had to wait two years ago.