SOUTHEND Hospital has announced it is to close one of its busiest surgical wards in a bid to save cash and balance the books.

The 26 shocked staff on George Foster Taylor ward have been informed their jobs will be saved and they will be relocated elsewhere in the hospital.

The 25-bed female-only ward will close in April.

Savage cuts in the hospital’s budget have already seen two wards close and up to 400 full-time posts are under threat over the next three years.

Nick Bradley, Unison regional officer, said the latest closure would have a major impact on waiting lists.

He said: “We have been told no staff will be made redundant, but the major issue is whether Southend can afford to lose so many beds.

“What is going to happen to patients?

“It is a very busy ward and almost always full.

“There is real anger among staff, who fear what will happen to patients.”

Mr Bradley said the impact on waiting lists for surgery would be “enormous”. He added: “Most hospitals are already at the edge and have no spare capacity. If there was a major incident, the hospital would be in serious trouble.”

Mr Bradley said staff were given no warning such a crucial ward could face the axe.

He added: “Even two consultants didn’t know this was going to happen. There was no consultation by management and they have given us no rationale for it.

“They couldn’t answer any questions or give us any information. This is just about bureaucrats balancing the cash register, but it will have a major impact on patient care.”

Staff didn’t want to be named, but one female employee said they wouldn’t take the closure lying down.

She said: “We have to fight this. We can’t just accept it.

“Everyone was told they would have jobs in other parts of the hospital, but there were no details. We had no warning at all.”

Another said: “Lots of staff and patients are upset the ward is closing because it is a really good ward that is always busy.

“People are always saying good things about it and it is such a surprise because it is one of the busiest surgical wards in the hospital.”

Malcolm McFrederick, the hospital’s director of operations, said the hospital had been working hard to reduce patients’ stays over the last year-and-a-half and they were succeeding.

He said: “By rationalising our surgical services, the hospital trust is planning to close a ward while still ensuring patient safety and care is maintained through greater support in the community.”

Hospitals bosses recently came under fire for spending £880,000 on management consultants while facing a period of swingeing job cuts.

It has also been criticised for overspending by £1million in just six months by employing temporary staff in A&E.