The group holding the purse strings for health services in Kingston has delayed ordering a public consultation into the future of a mental health ward for elderly people.
In a unanimous vote on Tuesday, the Kingston clinical commissioning group (CCG) decided to re-open negotiations with relatives of patients on Fuchsias ward, at Tolworth Hospital.
The CGC is offering a possible compromise deal, but with important conditions.
The strained relationship between relatives and CCG leaders, including chief officer David Smith, means “champions” from among the board’s members will mediate the discussion.
A four-week time limit was imposed, and the results of negotiations will be on the agenda when the board next meets on March 5.
A balance must be struck between the ward’s running costs of £1.46m a year and maintaining the quality of care its six patients receive.
Dr Phil Moore, deputy chairman of the CCG, said: “This is really difficult stuff. These are real people with real needs, with real relatives.
"There’s emotion involved and we need to be sensitive to those issues.
"We have a responsibility to individual patients and we have a responsibility to a population.
"If we’re spending hundreds of thousands on one individual we can’t spend it on others."
Louise Tarleton-Hodgson, whose father is a patient at Fuchsias Ward, opposes its possible closure. She said: “The staff looking after our relatives know them.
"One patient has been there for 20 years, which shows how well they are looked after. They know the slightest change to their expressions and when something could be wrong.
"We’re happy to spend money on a court case because it will go that far."
But the willingness of several board members to act as go-betweens could bring about a settlement.
Mrs Tarleton-Hodgson added: "We are open to any option that works. We’re not going to turn anything down that could bring a solution."