THE Red Cross centres in Romsey and North Baddesley are to shut their doors by the end of the year.

The charity is pulling out of NHS health centres across the county after being charged rent for the space they occupy in the buildings.

All in all, officials are axing 12 of the 21 facilities that provide elderly and disabled people with mobility aids.

It means service users will have to travel longer distances to borrow and return items of equipment.

The centre on Greatwell Drive will close, along with the centre in North Baddesley.

Mayor of Romsey, Dorothy Baverstock, said she was both 'amazed and devastated'.

The closest centres that will remain open will be Eastleigh, or Andover.

The charity enables people to borrow aids such as wheelchairs, crutches and walking frames, allowing people to remain independent for longer.

Last year Red Cross branches in Hampshire loaned more than 11,000 pieces of equipment.

But Geoff Cheshire, head of operations for mobility aids, said some of the buildings used by the service were only three miles apart.

He added: "This is a very inefficient and expensive way to operate.

"We cannot justify this expense to either our donors, our service users in other parts of the country or other local people who need our help.

“We have therefore given notice to leave 11 NHS properties and close one Red Cross centre.

"This will allow us to continue providing vital mobility aids from nine Red Cross buildings across the county. Hampshire will still have more centres than any other county in the UK."

Mayor Baverstock said they didn't seem to have thought the plan through.

She added: "I am devastated and amazed that Red Cross believe that people can get from Romsey or North Baddesley to Eastleigh easily or to Andover, which is impossible.

"Geographically they do not seem to have thought this through and I suspect it is based purely on finance, not services they provide or are needed in an area.

"Many of the people who need to use their services are elderly too. They seem to have made the assumption that everyone has transport or can travel distances."

Mr Cheshire said that they were exploring the possibility of a home delivery service, but nothing has been confirmed.

Mr Cheshire cited the introduction of charges for using health centres.

He said: “We have also been receiving demands for service charges for the space we occupy in NHS properties. As a charity we cannot remain in properties where there's a potential cost.

"We are exploring other options such as online ordering, home deliveries and mobile services to specific hard-to-reach locations."

One of the charity's volunteers, Mike Shucksmith, added: "Until two years ago NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups allowed the Red Cross to operate, without charge, in local health centres.

"Management of the health centres and similar properties was then taken over by an authority called NHS Buildings, which decided that commercial rents would be charged.

"After fruitless negotiations the Red Cross has had no choice but to shut all these services, except for a few such as Fordingbridge which are in premises created specifically by the local community.

"Centres in Ringwood, Romsey, Totton, Hythe and North Baddesley - and others - will all close by the end of the year.

"The whole of the West Hampshire/New Forest area will be served by either ourselves at Fordingbridge or Lymington. This may prove to be an unmanageable demand."

The NHS did not respond to requests for comment.