A FLAGSHIP health unit for dementia patients across south Essex is to open in Billericay .

Health chiefs have given the green light for Mountnessing Court to be transformed into a 22-bed centre for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – and say it will lead the way in specialist care.

The facility will be used to bridge the period between when patients come out of hospital but aren’t well enough to be live independently in their own homes.

Patients can stay for up to eight weeks and round-the-clock care will be provided.

It will also bring together medical, therapeutic and social care, along with mental health staff and workers from the Alzheimer’s Society, all under one roof.

The centre will open in autumn on a trial basis, with the results assessed in January, 2013.

Ian Stidston, director of primary care and partnership commissioning at NHS South Essex, said: “This unit will give people the choice to have intensive support away from hospital.

“We want to provide the care they and their carers need, so they can stay at home and live as independently as possible, for as long as possible, if that is their wish.”

The aim of the unit will be to get dementia sufferers, who will come from Basildon , Thurrock , Rochford and Castle Point, but not Southend, back to a state of health which allows them to return to their homes.

Residents with dementia and a particular medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection, will also be able to stay at the centre, so they can be supported before their problem becomes so serious that an admission to hospital is necessary.

Families of patients will also be able to access support from experts at the centre, who have experience in dealing with all aspects of the condition.

Katherine Kirk , chairman of NHS South Essex – the primary care trust serving the area – said the centre would be a “flagship facility”.

She added: “An important aspect of this project is the support from the Alzheimer’s Society for carers, both on the unit and also in the community, once the patient has returned home.”

The centre, in Mountnessing Road, was previously used as a day hospital and as a support centre for elderly people with mental illness.

Health bosses touted the prospect of closing the unit, but instead opted to transform it into the specialist dementia unit.