ALL 14 beds at Ledbury's community hospital are empty because NHS chiefs have stopped admissions due to a row over staffing the Intermediate Care Unit (ICU).

At the end of June, doctors at St Katherine's GP surgery decided not to renew their contract to look after patients in the Ledbury Health and Community Care Centre's ICU, which provides a half-way house between more intensive care and the chance to return home after illness.

St Katherine's GPs were asked to take on a significantly larger workload at the ICU, linked to a new pilot scheme, and they refused.

A spokesman for St Katherine's, which adjoins the hospital in Market Street, said: "We can confirm that we no longer provide medical cover for the Intermediate Care Unit at Ledbury Health and Care Centre. Our patients and work at the practice will always take priority and as the workload at the ICU has significantly increased in recent months, we began to find fulfilling our responsibilities at the practice increasingly difficult.

"We therefore reluctantly took the decision not to renew our contract at the end of June 2019. It is our understanding that Herefordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) have interim measures in place and are seeking a more permanent solution."

But the situation, which has led to a hiatus in patients being placed in beds, is not likely to be resolved until September at the earliest. No new admissions can be made until then.

A spokesman for the Herefordshire CCG said: "We have been working with Herefordshire Council and Shaw Healthcare, which owns the premises, to pilot a new scheme for ensuring that people can return to their homes as quickly as possible after a hospital stay and return to living independently.

"The new scheme operates from the Shaw Healthcare location in Ledbury and with therapy services provided by Wye Valley NHS Trust such as physiotherapy.

"The temporary lack of medical cover for this unit means that no new admissions are being made. As part of the new scheme the CCG is currently arranging medical cover from September and admissions will recommence."

News of the empty beds has led to anxiety among Ledbury residents as the ICU is seen as the successor to the Victorian Cottage Hospital and because, at the turn of this century, the town's popular cattle market was flattened to make space for the new hospital.

Pauline Halford asked: "Are we going to loose our hospital facilities like we lost our ambulance station? Why wasn't the public made aware of the situation which would have stopped any undue speculation and mistrust?"

While Sara Manns Pedlingham said: "This saddens me a great deal. I used to work on the ward of the ICU and saw first hand how dedicated each of the staff are. I fully understand the importance of putting the practice first, especially with ever increasing numbers of patients, but surely alternatives could have been put into practice?"

However, it is still very much business as usual at the new hospital when it comes to outpatients and the minor injuries unit.