A NEW 24-bed unit has opened in East Lancashire to help NHS bosses cope with the anticipated extra demand over the winter months.

Management at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust will again be offering additional accommodation, this time at Burnley General Teaching Hospital, as the cold snap begins.

Bosses will be looking to avoid a repeat of last year, when a number of elective operations had to be cancelled due to the pressures on wards over the Christmas and New Year period.

Trust chiefs say that patients "will benefit from being cared for in an environment that promotes independence and routine whilst being involved in the final arrangements for returning home".

Within the ward, patients will be encouraged to dress in their own clothes and set themselves goals to be achieved during their days there.

Patients will be encouraged, for instance, to take their meals in the dining areas, at the Casterton Avenue site, rather than being fed in bed.

A range of activities will be provided, alongside TV and music, in communal areas, with support offered by staff, volunteers and even the patients' own families.

John Bannister, the trust's operations director, said: "Patients being cared for in hospital can lose their levels of independence and become de-conditioned.

"Normal hospital wards can also be very busy and noisy with little social space available.

"The new unit will provide opportunities to support our patients in a safe, personal and effective way."

Hospital managers have opened up extra beds, at both the Burnley and Royal Blackburn Hospital sites, for a number of years.

Last year the trust also opened up a respiratory assessment unit, to ease the pressure on the accident and emergency department.