BEDS in two “mothballed” wards of a new £70million community hospital are being brought into action next week to help ease winter pressures on NHS Lothian.

East Lothian Community Hospital in Haddington opened for patients last month with two wards set aside in anticipation of the county’s growing population in the years ahead.

But health chiefs have revealed that more than half the beds will be used to provide a “short term” solution to other parts of the Lothians over the next three months.

The decision was taken to bring 24 of the 44 beds into use ahead of Christmas to ease pressure on other hospitals.

However, East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership’s director Alison Macdonald has stressed local residents will always be a priority for the wards.

She told East Lothian Integration Joint Board (IJB): “The first call on these beds has to be what is right for the people of East Lothian and what we, as an IJB, want to use the beds for. This is a very short term solution.”

The new community hospital was built with 132 beds for long stay patients, many of whom will come from a stepdown ward operating at Tranent’s Crookston Care Home and short stay patients as well as 20 ortho-rehabilitation beds.

Two wards were mothballed as the county expects its population to grow with thousands of new homes due to be built in the coming years and expected to be brought into use further down the line.

Mrs Macdonald said that the county had agreed to offer the additional beds to ease pressure over winters across neighbouring communities and the funding would come from NHS Lothian.

She said other work had already been undertaken to prepare for winter pressures with extra staff brought in to cover hospital at home services and social work as well as extending the hospital discharge team to a seven day operation.

She said: “A further action we have been asked to take is that the two mothballed wards on top of the new hospital are open. It will initially have ten patients in it and potentially 24 beds to support the winter programme.

“We have people in place to support that work and funding in place from NHS Lothian and thankfully we have people who want to come and work in East Lothian.”