A hospital trust plans to close the equivalent of seven wards to get back into financial balance.

Documents obtained by HSJ through the Freedom of Information Act show Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals Trust in east London was given £3.2m earlier this year by NHS London’s challenged trust board to help fund changes which will enable ward closures.

The trust has already managed to close one ward by setting up two dedicated elderly care units.

A spokeswoman for the trust said the ward closures had been agreed with local commissioners on the basis that delayed transfers of care were reduced to 1 per cent. At present they are running at between 5 and 6 per cent, compared with 3.8 per cent last year.

“The number of patients we have seen has also increased above the levels contracted by our commissioners, with the trust seeing an additional 71,000 patients this year up to the end of September. We will only close beds when we are confident that our patients have the appropriate care and that it is safe to do so,” she said.

The trust said the bed reduction was coming from one surgical and six medical wards, which were mostly being used as contingency beds for elderly people or delayed transfers of care. Department of Health figures for September recorded 4,281 patients experiencing a delayed transfer of care in England. In terms of absolute numbers of patients delayed, Barking, Havering and Redbridge was the third highest, with 317 patients.

The trust also saw the third highest figure for delays, recording 2,044 days of delayed care in September.

In a letter to the trust, challenged trust board chief executive Ann Radmore said the £3.2m should be seen as “pump priming” for the reconfiguration. She added it had been agreed the trust “would not be expecting commissioners to pick up any extra recurrent revenue as a result” of the changes.

The changes are part of a longer term plan to overcome the trust’s financial problems. It recorded an £18.2m overspend by the end of September against a planned overspend of £12m.

The challenged trust board was established in December 2008 with a budget of £392m to write off historic deficits in NHS organisations across the capital. By the end of the last financial year it had paid out £35m to challenged trusts.