NHS chiefs have been slammed over plans which could see beds slashed at a threatened hospital ward.

Many believed the axe was set to fall on Bishop Auckland Hospital’s ward six last year, prompting a slew of protests and petitions and, eventually, a stay of execution for the facility.

But despite promises from bosses that it will stay open, the recent announcement of plans which could cut the number of patients treated at once has provoked anger.

“The lack of trust in anything the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) says is increasing by the day,” said Ros Evans, who has been a leading figure in campaigns to protect care in the south of County Durham.

“This all needs to be called what it is, cuts to services for communities in Bishop Auckland and the dales, and we can find no way of holding the CCG to account.”

Evans was speaking at yesterday's meeting of Durham County Council’s Adults, Wellbeing and Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which heard updated plans for the ward from the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield (DDES) CCG, the organisation responsible for care services in south Durham.

Their proposals, which are due to go out for public consultation in October, would see it merge with another ward in the hospital and cut eight beds from the 24 it currently has.

According to care chiefs, the number of days patients spend in hospital almost halved from 2017/18 to 2018/19, and it is hoped the changes could reduce this further.

Sarah Burns, the CCG’s director of commissioning and strategy, said: “We’ve seen a reduction in length of stay in community hospitals across the county and we want to make sure people have the best opportunity for recovery and evidence suggests people recover best in their own environment.

“We want to have care as close to home as possible and it’s important for people to be in their closest hospital if they’re there for rehab so their family and carers can come and visit them.”

Under the plans inpatient rehab services will also be available in other community hospitals across the county, while community care teams and social workers will be on hand to help continue treatment after patients have been discharged.

But health bosses were warned the changes would only work if services outside hospitals were in place.

Coun Heather Smith said: “I think some of this is to be welcomed, the prospect of retaining the ward is good and the campaign that’s been waged has had an effect – if we hadn’t kicked up a stink this ward would have closed months ago.

“I’m pleased there is the prospect of better therapy and that will have a major benefit to people getting home and improving their health.

“But this will only be effective if your community services are in place.”