The head of a specialist unit at Birmingham Children's Hospital told last night how fears for the future safety of his patients would force him to resign if it was merged to help save money.
Dr Gordon Bates (pictured), a child psychiatrist, said running the Heathlands Unit at Park View, Moseley, had become his life and concern for the wellbeing of the vulnerable youngsters he treated if the merger proposals went ahead would make his position untenable.
The unit, which treats children and adolescents with mental health problems, is set to be merged as part of efforts to help the trust save #800,000 and avoid having to cut jobs.
But Dr Bates, who has run the unit for five years, said merging the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) provided by the unit and Ward 3 at the hospital, a ward which treats young adults with more severe psychiatric disorders, would be a "dangerous recipe for trouble" and could endanger vulnerable youngsters.
He said his unit was "the last refuge" for many children and teenagers with severe emotional disorders.
"There is something about running this unit, it becomes your life and you become a kind of figurehead, so if I was to step down from this role it would be because I could not continue to work successfully.
"However, when I told the chief executive that I would resign if the ward was closed I got no response whatsoever. It didn't seem to register with him. But this is really important to me."
The 40-year-old psychiatrist, who has worked with young patients for 12 years, added: "There are serious safety issues around putting children on the same ward as adolescent patients. Younger children are very vulnerable, while teenagers with some form of psychosis have the potential to be aggressive and violent.
"Both Ward 3 and Heathlands have only limited physical space and currently run at between 70 and 95 per cent occupancy. The fuller those wards are the greater the chance of conflict among patients will be.
"Ultimately we treat adolescents with severe emotional disorders. We really are their last refuge."
The Heathlands patients are predominantly aged between 11 and 14, while Ward 3 caters for children aged from five to 16, with many of the older ones suffering from disorders which mean they can be aggressive.
Trust bosses say they need to save #800,000 if they are to remain one of the few trusts in the region to avoid axing jobs as a result of the ailing health economy. Last year the trust received income of more than #140 million.
In order to achieve this, it plans to lose ten of its 44 CAMHS beds - effectively closing Ward 3 - and create one centre either at Park View or the Children's Hospital.
A second public consultation will be launched next week, after the city council's health scrutiny panel deemed the original exercise inadequate, and the trust board is expected to make a decision in September.
If the merger plans are approved, Dr Bates fears patients may have to travel to alternative centres at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool or Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London.
Paul O'Connor, chief executive of Birmingham Children's Hospital, said he did not want to lose clinicians but had to focus on delivering the best possible service on the finances available.
He said: "We can't spend money we haven't got, and we haven't got the #800,000 for CAMHS. Who's going to pay the staff, for the drugs and the services? I don't want good clinicians to go and it doesn't surprise me that individuals want their service to be the biggest and best in the country.
"However, I am less concerned with furniture and bed numbers, I am more concerned about our services."