COUNCIL chiefs have said they are "appalled" at "disingenuous" claims by health bosses over the future of a hospital ward.

Sue Jacques, chief executive at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust (CDDFT), was at Durham County Hall yesterday to take questions on the possible closure of Ward 6 at Bishop Auckland Hospital.

But she shocked councillors when she said the trust had "never made a decision" to close the ward.

“I find it disingenuous to say you never said you would close Ward 6,” Councillor Andrea Patterson said in response. “There were dates for the last admittance and ward closure.

“We accepted a formal apology at the last meeting for you to say you never said you were going to close Ward 6 – I’m appalled.”

Councillor Patterson was supported by Councillor John Robinson, chairman of the Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

He said: “The letter I sent had to be there by November 15 because the ward was closing on November 15. We’re here because we were told November 15 [was when the ward would close].”

The ward is ran as a ‘step down’ ward is for patients who are not yet ready to return home, but do not need the full services of an acute hospital.

Last year, proposals which could see the ward shut down prompted protests demanding it be retained.

The committee’s previous meeting, in November, had prompted an apology from Carole Langrick, CDDFT’s executive director of operations, for the trust’s handling of the ward’s future.

Ms Jacques’s claims were in response to Councillor Charlie Kay, who accused hospital bosses of trying to shift care costs on to patients.

He said: “Ward 6 is doing an excellent job, [the hospital’s] questionnaire confirms that.

“An attempt to close it would create extra burden on the social care system – you are trying to abdicate your responsibility and place that on Durham County Council and council tax payers.”

He concluded by repeating a promise he previously made to a meeting of the full county council to demand a review by the Health Secretary if care chiefs decided to close the ward.

In response, Ms Jacques said: “We’ve never made a decision to close, we’ve been really clear about that.

“That’s not anything we’ve agreed at any point in the past.

“We’ve agreed we will work very closely with [the council] following the staff engagement process.”

A consultation with staff, patients and the public on the ward’s future is expected to continue until March.