AN AWARD winning Greenock unit helping patients recover from serious injuries and life-changing illnesses is to shut due to a shortage of doctors.

Health campaigners are outraged that the physical disability rehabilitation unit, based in the Larkfield Unit, is to be merged with the stroke ward.

The family of one of the remaining patients James Bell, 65, who is recovering from a serious brain injury, is now concerned about his future.

Bosses at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board have told the Tele the shutdown is a temporary measure because they have failed to fill posts and is necessary to ensure the safety of patients.

But James' wife Christine, a carers' centre manager, said: "We have struggled to find somewhere for James.

"He suffers from hemiplegic migraines and had to retire nine years ago.

"He fell and it has caused a brain injury.

"We managed to get him into the PDRU in June and it has made such a difference - he has really started to improve.

"I don't know what we would do without it.

"I am worried about him being upset because of the move.

"It is very unsettling, just as we were starting to make progress.

"The staff in the unit are great and they are specialised.

"We don't want those skills to be lost."

Christine says she is sceptical over whether the unit will be res-established.

She said: "Who knows if it will ever open again?

"To be honest I am worried about the loss to the community as a whole - we need Inverclyde Royal.

"We see it again and again, they reduce services bit by bit until there is nothing left.

"We need more rehabilitation beds not less."

Health services campaigner Ciano Rebecchi says the closure is 'very worrying'.

He added: "It was an eight bed unit at one time.

"Why are they not able to get the staff to come to Inverclyde?

"Surely if there is a need here then they should be sent here.

"They should come to the town hall and start talking to the public about this - what do they have to say?"

Inverclyde Physical Disability Rehabilitation Unit's specialised nursing team previously won a NHS GGC chairman's award.

At that time there were eight beds in the unit but that has since reduced.

They give specialised care and rehabilitation to people with conditions like multiple sclerosis head injuries, or who have suffered injuries as a result of road accidents.

Staff have been hailed for quickly forming close bonds with patients and their family members.

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "For several years now, despite recruitment drives, it has been difficult for us to attract consultants to work at our PDRU based within Inverclyde Royal Hospital.

"The service, with four in-patient beds in a separate ward, has become unsustainable as we do not have enough doctors to staff it as a stand-alone unit for clinical safety reasons.

"A decision has been reached that the four neuro-rehabilitation beds will move to the adjacent stroke ward for a period of three months to ensure safe staffing levels.

"Patients will see no change to their treatment plans.

"They will receive the same rehabilitation, by the same physiotherapists and nurses.

"The change will purely be in relation to the location of their beds.

"Staff will not be affected by these changes, other than managing inpatients within a different ward environment within the Larkfield Unit.

"This decision has been taken to ensure safe staffing levels – and patient care – while we make further efforts to recruit additional medical staff."