A WARD which hospital bosses proposed shutting down is now running ‘at nearly full capacity’, council chiefs have claimed.

Fears for Ward Six at Bishop Auckland Hospital started rising in October, when managers confirmed they were considering closing the facility.

But after a grilling by County Durham councillors last month, not only did County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT) apologise for its handling of the issue, it also promised the 24-bed service would remain open while its future is considered.

Speaking at a Durham County Council meeting last week, health scrutiny panel chairman Councillor John Robinson updated councillors on efforts to save the ward.

He said: “When it was passed to scrutiny, Coun [Rob] Crute and I wrote immediately to the trust and they wrote back to say they would stop what they were doing.

“This was a superb example of the power of scrutiny.

“Scrutiny has been able to get the [hospital] trust to halt what they’re doing and give assurances they will come back to us at the end of January.

“That ward is now at nearly full capacity– scrutiny and this council has done its job.”

Bishop Auckland Hospital’s Ward Six is run as a ‘step down’ ward for patients who are not ready to go home, but do not need the full services of an acute hospital.

It is understood the closure was proposed to achieve cost reductions, support the trust’s bed reduction plan and tackle under occupancy of bed capacity, as well as standardising working practice and staffing ratios across hospital wards.

A special motion at last month’s full council meeting had sought to ‘call-in’ the issue to request a Government review.

But this proposal was amended to request the issue be brought to the council’s scrutiny committee first.

Coun Robinson, who was not at last month’s council meeting, added: “Calling in is a serious matter, if we don’t abide by the guidelines we could lose.

“When we’re playing with things like that we must remember there’s 500,000 people out there who rely on us for their health [care].”

In a statement, a spokesperson for CDDFT said: “At a meeting of the Durham County Council Adults Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee last month, we agreed that Ward Six at Bishop Auckland Hospital would continue operating as usual whilst we discuss options with our staff and partners in health and social care.”

More than 7,000 people signed a petition against the proposal, which was presented to parliament by MP Helen Goodman, and campaigners staged a protest when Trust representatives were at County Hall.