THE CLOSURE of two more residential nursing homes in Darlington could leave sick elderly patients with nowhere else to go but hospital this winter.

Trees Park Healthcare has decided to close three of its residential lodges at Middleton St George and currently 42 elderly people are waiting to be re-homed.

In Darlington, residential beds have been lost at Abbey Lodge in Abbey Road, after the council approved a request to change its use from a nursing home to a children's nursery.

The situation is causing concern for local health and social services managers who use residential nursing care beds as a stop gap between hospital and home as a patient gets better.

Last week, Coun Heather Scott voiced her concerns to members of Darlington and Teesdale Community Health Council.

She feared the loss of more intermediate care beds in the borough would mean that elderly patients had to stay in hospital longer than necessary.

Her concern was supported by Mr Ken Jarrold, chief executive of County Durham & Darlington health authority.

He told members: "The closure of these two homes is of real concern to social services and ourselves.

"The reduction of the number of beds in nursing homes and in the residential care sector is making it difficult to discharge people as quickly as we would like to.

"There are no easy answers to this. It is a national problem and not unique to Darlington or County Durham, but we do share your concerns."

Health organisations are awaiting the outcome of a local intermediate care strategy which looks at all available services between hospital and home.