HEALTH chiefs have come under fire over plans to axe all the beds at a New Forest unit for pensioners suffering from dementia.

A major review of mental health services in Hampshire could result in the number of inpatient beds for older people being cut by a third.

Sites affected include the Becton Centre in Fairfield Way, Barton-on-Sea, where all 15 beds will close if the scheme goes ahead.

Now a leading member of New Forest District Council has hit out at the proposed cuts.

Councillor Di Brooks, Cabinet member for health and leisure said: “The consultation document acknowledges that the number of older people needing mental health services is set to increase over the next ten years.

“The recent census for our area shows a 21 per cent increase in our over-65s and a 35 per cent rise in our over-85s.

“It seems very unwise to reduce the bed capacity by a third when our population is ageing in this way.”

The plans have been submitted by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust, which wants to cut the number of beds from 180 to 124.

As reported in the Daily Echo, a public consultation exercise was launched earlier this year.

The four sites affected are the Becton Centre, the Summervale complex in Sarisbury Green, the Willows unit in Petersfield and the Fernhurst ward at St James Hospital, Portsmouth.

The Becton Centre is said to need improvements costing more than £1m.

If the beds are closed older mental health patients needing specialist care are likely to be treated at the Western Community Hospital in Southampton .

A trust spokesman said the building itself would remain open, becoming a base for other NHS services.

He added: “More than 95 per cent of people we care for are in the community – either in their own home or in a care home.

“New treatments and drugs mean that people are able to better manage their condition and therefore stay in the community for longer.

“Over the past two years we have seen a drop in the demand for beds.

“We currently have an average of 60 beds empty a day, which reflects the increased community support we are now able to offer.”