CAMPAIGNERS are stepping up their efforts to get health chiefs to reopen a vital rehabilitation facility at South-ampton General Hospital.

As previously reported in the Daily Echo, the hydrotherapy pools have been closed for two months because the staff are needed to cover the wards.

The pools are used by thousands of patients and residents recovering from back and joint injuries and operations and for easing the painful symptoms of arthritic or rheumatic conditions.

Their closure has been met with widespread dismay, amid fears that the temporary closure could become permanent.

The head of a national charity has already written to Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust's chief executive, Mark Hackett, urging him to rethink.

Jane Skerrett, director of the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society (NASS), says losing the pool will be disastrous for those with the arthritic condition, ultimately costing the NHS money.

"Where hydrotherapy pools are available they make a major contribution to people living with this disease," she said.

"There is nowhere else they can go because it is the most supportive environment for people with bad joints. They can't go to public swimming pools because the temperature is so important. It's not an easy disease to have because it's long term and incurable. It can be like having flu when you can't get your head off the pillow and about a third of patients with it are unable to work.

"Some AS patients end up having to make all sorts of demands on the State, but these people are absolutely committed to helping themselves and avoid placing future demands on the health service. Being in water allows the patients to do safely things they cannot do in a gym. It is penalising patients who really are trying the best for themselves.

"I've expressed my concern that although their stated intention is to close it for two months, there is going to be a problem of reopening.

"Once you take a service away it is difficult to bring it back."

Southampton City Council's older people champion, former mayor Cllr Edwina Cooke, pictured above, told the Daily Echo she too will be writing to Mr Hackett to complain about the closure.

"With all we are trying to do to keep older people active this is so important to them," she said.

"This is something they should have. It keeps them mobile and should not be taken away.

"I feel quite strongly about it. It helps far too many people that even a temporary closure is wrong."

Mr Hackett was not available when contacted by the Daily Echo for comment.

In a previous statement the hospital trust said it was committed to providing appropriate alternative forms of therapy to inpatients and outpatients.

It added the measure is temporary, and necessary to support inpatient services.