PLANS to close an award-winning stroke unit have been delayed - because there is not enough free space at a neighbouring hospital.

North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust announced it was going to close the Rutson Hospital, Northallerton, in October, and move services into a ward at the nearby Friarage Hospital.

The trust said the Rutson, which opened in 1877, was being closed because the cost of bringing it up to modern standards was too high. It is believed that the building had also lost its fire certificate.

On Monday, the PCT and South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Friarage, announced that the closure of the Rutson was being delayed because the space earmarked for the relocated services at the Friarage was not available.

Trust officials said measures were being put in place to safeguard patient safety during the delay.

The Rutson had expected to close by early spring, but a spokeswoman for the South Tees trust said this would now be delayed by several months. A firm date had not yet been fixed for the closure.

Jill Moulton, director of planning for South Tees, said the delay was due to a busy winter period at the Friarage.

"Unfortunately this means the ward we had identified to house the Rutson service will not be immediately available as planned, which is disappointing," she said.

"We will continue to work with the PCT to assess what opportunities there are to find space in the Friarage for the Rutson services."

Janet Probert, the PCT's director of operations, added: "Patient safety must be our top priority so the PCT is putting in place interim measures at the Rutson Hospital to ensure that this is not compromised while we work with South Tees to agree a date to relocate services.

"While the delay in being able to relocate services is disappointing for both trusts, we are still working closely together on this project because it will deliver real benefits for patients, staff and visitors."

In May last year, the Rutson was named the best performing stroke rehabilitation unit in the country in figures released by the Royal College of Physicians and the Healthcare Commission.