PATIENTS staying at a Hitchin hospital had to be relocated at the last minute on Christmas Eve, after the heating and hot water system there broke down.

Hitchin Hospital was shut down by managers because there were no guarantees that urgent repairs carried out would ensure hot water supplies and adequate heating over the Christmas period.

The decision was further prompted by weather forecasts predicting temperatures would remain at freezing over the festive period.

It still remains closed, with no decision having yet been made when it will reopen.

“The interest of our patients is our top priority and we were ensuring that each and every one will have a warm and comfortable Christmas,” said acting director of operations Julie Hoare.

“Urgent work is being carried out to repair the heating system but as this could not be guaranteed to be completed in the 24 hours, the decision was made to re-accommodate patients elsewhere.”

17 rehabilitation patients were relocated to other trust facilities, nursing homes or discharged home with additional support.

Staff began transporting patients on December 23 and were still doing so until the afternoon on December 24.

Several went to Royston Hospital, others went home and were provided with additional care, and one went to Potters Bar, where her family live.

“We gave some thought as to where we could move the patients to and began this on December 23. We were relying on ambulance transport,” said a spokesman from Herts Community Health Service.

“We’re still reviewing what we are going to do as far as the heating system is concerned.”

It has been claimed that the heating system has been faulty for a while, and new parts were used in it to try and fix the problem.

But when engineers said they couldn’t guarantee it would keep working and the hot water problems emerged, the decision was reached to close the facility for an undetermined period.

The system is still being looked at to try and find a long term solution.