HEALTH bosses are looking to commission a new 35-bed unit for dementia patients within East Lancashire.

The £2million-a-year service would offer assessment and rehabilitation beds, while preventing some patients from requiring specialist treatment at a soon-to-be-built hospital in Blackpool.

The Harbour project, which has prompted the controversial closure of specialist dementia beds in Blackburn and Burnley in recent years, is set to open in Blackpool next year, with patients with severe problems being treated in Preston until then.

East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) reluctantly agreed to support the Blackpool move last year, amid concerns about the distances patients and families would have to travel.

It said a new 35-bed facility within East Lancashire would improve and simplify care, and could even prevent some patients from developing severe problems that would still require specialist treatment in Blackpool.

Dr Mike Ions, the CCG’s chief clinical officer, said: “Following agreement at a meeting, we will now test the market by looking at potential providers and locations for the service, as well as fully understanding the likely costs of the service. Our initial plans do suggest that having a local service in East Lancashire would be beneficial in reducing the impact on local families and patients.

“This is an entirely separate piece of work to the Lancashire-wide consultation on specialist dementia care, where a new hospital service is being planned in Blackpool.”

Russ McLean, chairman of the Pennine Lancashire Patient Voices Group, said: “I know the CCG had raised concerns about patients travelling to Blackpool and I’m happy that they seem to be doing something about it.

“But I’m not sure why didn’t they come up with this proposal about 18 months ago when there was all the controversy about the specialist beds. People would not have been so concerned if this had been discussed back then.”

The CCG believes the project, which will cater for patients with ‘significant’ behavioural and psychological problems, will actually save money, as many patients who currently receive NHS care packages at home or in a nursing home could be admitted to the new unit instead, which would cost the NHS less. There is also concern that The Harbour will only provide 30 specialist beds, while the number of people with dementia is rising sharply.