Birmingham health authority has agreed to spend £350,000 reorganising mental health wards at a local psychiatric hospital after incidents of violence and drug- taking by patients.

Rob Southern, clinical services development manager at Northern Birmingham Mental Health trust, warned recently that he was 'unable to guarantee a safe, secure or effective service' at Highcroft Psychiatric Hospital after a number of serious incidents.

And trust chief executive John Mahoney has admitted that putting 24 men and 24 women into large wards was 'a recipe for conflict'. The changes will include creating three 12-bed, single-sex wards and four respite houses for patients not needing hospital treatment.

Mr Mahoney denied local press reports that patients were using crack cocaine on the wards, but accepted there was a drugs problem, mainly involving cannabis.

Unison regional organiser Ian McKivett suggested that the reorganisation would not resolve the problems. He said the hospital was 'at the point of collapse', with serious staff shortages and high levels of sickness absence, adding that no one wanted to work at the hospital because of its reputation.

But Mr Mahoney said there were no problems with recruiting staff to smaller units.