A PROPOSAL to close ward two at Dunbar’s Belhaven Hospital has been branded “underhand and manipulative” ahead of a crucial meeting.

The future of the hospital, as well as Edington Hospital, North Berwick, was placed under review by health chiefs earlier this year.

At the time the Belhaven Forum, which is made up of representatives from the community and health services, was given four options to consider.

But after months of debate, a new fifth option surprisingly emerged last week.

The Health and Social Care Partnership, which runs health and social care services in the county, informed members of the forum that the new option five was now its “preferred option” and it would be put before a meeting of East Lothian Integration Joint Board (IJB) next Thursday.

The partnership said that option five would “close ward two and provide current clinical and care activity through a package of alternative measures”.

An inspection in May found the ward at Belhaven required major upgrading, describing the fabric of it as extremely poor and no longer fit for purpose.

The four options put forward ranged from refurbishing the entire ward – which is home to 12 beds and looks after patients who are admitted by their GP or in need of respite or palliative care – to bring it up to standard, to moving it into neighbouring ward three, which is currently used as a nursing home unit.

The emergence of option five has been criticised by ward councillor Paul McLennan, as well as former councillor Jacquie Bell, secretary of the town’s community council, who are both demanding that a decision is not made at the IJB meeting next Thursday.

Mr McLennan said: “The way this has been dealt with is underhand and manipulative. It is outrageous and they should be pulling the paper from the meeting.

“To produce a fifth option out of the blue with no discussion with the forum and the community is shocking. I will be demanding this decision is not discussed by the IJB until it has been given a proper consultation.”

Papers for the meeting at Haddington Town House are not yet available for the public to read but outline option five as the “preferred option”.

The other options were: 1. Continue to provide the existing service within the existing premises, which was deemed “untenable as the current poor state of the premises and its layout does not comply with modern standards for infection control, space utilisation, patient dignity, nursing practice and healthcare provision”; 2. Provide the service within a replacement modular facility next to ward two, ruled out due to costs and “inherent limitations” of modular premises; 3. Move the services in ward two into ward three; and 4. Upgrade the ward to required standards, ruled out because of space limitation.

At the last meeting of the forum at the end of last month these options were discussed, with option three appearing to be the preferred choice.

But last week, members received notification that a fifth undiscussed option to close the ward was now being put forward.

Mrs Bell, who was cabinet member for adult social care during her time on East Lothian Council, said: “This option is being presented as the preferred option of the health and social care partnership but it has not been discussed by the forum. We cannot allow this to go forward without proper consultation and discussions.”

Mrs Bell has called for the December meeting of the IJB to defer any decision on the ward’s future.

The IJB is the joint health and social services board set up to make decisions in East Lothian. It has members from both NHS Lothian and East Lothian Council.

Ward councillor Norman Hampshire, depute leader of East Lothian Council, said: “My personal preference would be that all wards remain open and continue; however, NHS Lothian are saying they can no longer operate ward two in its current form.

“Of the two options, if I am faced with option five or three, I would go with three, but as a council we do not have the power to make that decision.”

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said it was important the services provided by ward two remained local. He said: “My view has always been that, if there are changes, services provided there should be maintained locally. It is also vital that the community is fully engaged with implementing any changes to services.”

The IJB said the options were all being considered and public consultation was taking place ahead of any decision.

Peter Murray. IJB chairman, said: “We are all absolutely committed to improving the experience of patients and carers at Belhaven Hospital, and the desire for change with regards to Ward 2 is driven by this.

“The IJB pledges to take on board both community concerns and criticisms from inspection agencies when considering the options for the future of the ward.”