A PIONEERING hospice that offered sanctuary for vulnerable young adults will close for good today, weeks earlier than planned.

Adult services at cash-strapped Helen & Douglas House in Oxford have shut weeks ahead of schedule due to staff shortages, with families left 'furious' having been let down at the last-minute.

Douglas House was set to close its doors in August to salvage the hospice's struggling finances, but service users were told this morning that it will shut its doors on Thursday.

Bookings for the East Oxford hospice, which cares for adults aged 18-35 with complex health conditions, have been cancelled.

Helen House, which supports children and babies aged under 18, will remain open as usual. 

The charity's chief executive said she was 'truly sorry' for the inconvenience and she had 'no choice' but to close early.

Gill Finlayson from Worcestershire told the Oxford Mail she was 'absolutely furious'.

Her 21-year-old son Robin Cornwell, who has muscular dystrophy, had been looking forward to a week-long stay at Douglas House in mid-July while she took time to rest from her role as his carer.

She said: "We are desperately trying to find somewhere else. I'm really deflated.

"They promised to honour stays [until the planned closure in August].

"I am absolutely appalled."

The mother-of-two said she made the booking prior to the announcement in January that Douglas House would have to close to save money.

She said: "I have been looking forward to it all year.

"I'm an unpaid carer and looking after Robin is a full-time job - to have that break in the middle of the summer is of huge importance. It keeps you sane."

Ms Finlayson, whose son has used Douglas House in Magdalen Road for several years, said care centres that are equipped to look after her son are few and far between.

She added that even if she manages to find somewhere else suitable, it will likely be booked by now.

Helen & Douglas House, which will retain its services for children at Helen House, said the decision to close Douglas House early was due to staffing levels.

Douglas House was opened by the Queen in 2004, as the sister hospice to Helen House, opened in 1982, on the same site.

It was the world's first hospice especially for young adults, named after a patient who stayed at Helen House more than 80 times between the ages of 15 and 25.

Clare Periton, chief executive of the charity, said: "In weighing up the risks of reduced staff capacity we had no alternative but to close the young adult service this week.

"We are truly sorry for the disruption to families who were expecting to stay here next month, but we really had no choice.

"I wish to acknowledge and thank Douglas House staff who have continued to care for young adults in a remarkable way.

"I would also like to thank families of Douglas House who have been understanding and generous in their support."

In February the hospice sent a letter to families stating all bookings would be regarded as 'flexi bed bookings', meaning in cases of 'sickness or sudden change' it might be unable to give much notice about a cancellation. 

A statement released by the hospice today said Douglas House patients have been 'guided towards alternative care providers wherever possible'.

The decision to close its adult services, making 60 people redundant in the process, to cope with a desperate financial situation and secure the future of Helen House.

Ms Periton said today: "We are confident that the difficult decisions taken have secured the future of the charity for decades to come.

"We continue to rely on the generosity of the public to fund the care we give and we are very grateful for their help."

The hospice is in talks with other care providers to utilise the purpose-built Douglas House building, but said no decisions have been made yet.