VULNERABLE patients' lives will be put at risk because of a decision to close a rehab unit, it is claimed.

Highams Court rehabilitation unit in Friars Close, Chingford, which supports those recovering from long illness or injuries, is set to close by December after Waltham Forest Primary Care Trust (PCT) voted unanimously to shut it down at a public meeting on Tuesday after months of uncertainty.

The move is part of a reconfiguration of care services for vulnerable people across north east London.

But relatives of long-term patients reacted with outrage at the decision announced at The Score centre in Oliver Road, Leyton, and claim the PCT is gambling with their loved ones' health.

Trevor Cousins, 60, of Garfield Road in Chingford, whose 91-year-old mother, Ethel Cousins lives at the home because she has dementia, said: "It's legalised euthanasia. I guarantee it will kill her.

"She is in no state to be fit to survive going to a nursing home.

"One patient who has been moved out of Highams Court over summer has died. But the decision was signed and sealed before we even went in."

Annie Smith, 87, who has arthiritis of the spine and has lived there for three years, said: "I was promised this would be my home until I die. Where do I go now? It's such a shock."

Jim Fagan, of Keep Our NHS Public, criticised a report written by the trust which manages the unit, North East London & the City (NELC), claiming it is more concerned with the reputation of the NHS than with patients' welfare.

Under the heading 'Risks', the report said: "The main risks when making any decision on service reconfiguration to include if ... there is a reputational risk of negative publicity associated with the decision made."

Mr Fagan said: "Nothing addresses the concerns raised by all people who contributed to the consultation.

"Nobody could make a decision with a good conscience based on this report."

However, Kay Matthews, programme director at NELC, said a pilot scheme run over the summer where patients with less serious conditions were cared for at home had been a success, while long-term patients were being helped to move into private nursing homes.

PCT chair Afzal Akram added: "We are going to ensure we have continued reports of where existing patients in this unit go for their future and what the quality of care is they are receiving."

However, Mr Fagan vowed to fight on.

He said: "This isn't the end of this. We're going to work with relatives and patients, who will now be under a lot of stress, and see how we can fight this."