A FRESH air balcony at a mental health unit in Burnley could solve problems with patients going ‘absent without leave’.

Disappearances, or AWOLs, from the Victoria Wing at Burnley General Hospital have become a concern for bosses at Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust.

And the creation of a secure external area for patients from two wards has been highlighted as a concern by the Care Quality Commission following a recent inspection.

But now plans have been approved by borough council planning officers, under delegated powers, for a solution to the issue.

Currently four of the six wards on the wing are occupied – but there are two on the first and second floors which have no direct access to open space.

Plans are in place to relocate an older adult ward from the second to first floor at the premises, where there is already a separate female ward. And a scheme which will see a balcony created at first floor level, should resolve the problem and ‘eliminate the risk of AWOLs’.

James Halsall, of Preston-based planning agents The Frank Whittle Partnership, said in a report: “The two wards on the upper floor levels currently have to be taken off the ward on a daily basis.

“This is causing operational issues for the trust as staff have to escort small groups of patients off the wards and into the external grounds of the hospital site.

“This is impractical and is leading to AWOLs (absent without leaves), which is also having an effect on policing operations.”

The balcony, which would be covered by security fencing, will be divided down the middle as medics say it would not be appropriate for the two sets of patients to mix.