An historic mental health hospital is set to continue to be used for healthcare even though it has shut its doors for the final time.

The last patients have moved out of St John’s Hospital, in Twickenham, it was revealed this week, after a lengthy battle to preserve it was lost.

The Strafford Road hospital was earmarked for closure after Richmond and Twickenham Primary Care Trust (PCT), now NHS Richmond, elected to switch the purchasing of mental health care to a cheaper, non-NHS supplier. It was established by Elizabeth Twining in 1879 on the understanding that it was “forever thereafter to be used as and for the purpose of a hospital or dispensary”.

South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, which supplied the care at the hospital, confirmed this week all patients had left and transferred to nursing homes of their choice.

A spokeswoman said: “The trust, together with NHS Richmond, has worked closely with the families and carers of these patients to identify nursing homes which meet the clinical needs of the patients and in terms of location and access are appropriate for their carers and relatives.

“The trust, as the landlord for the majority of the site, is currently working with health and social care partners in Richmond to consider alternative uses in the future.”

Vince Cable, MP for Twickenham, opposed the closure of the hospital and introduced a debate on its future in the House of Commons in January 2008.

He said: “The [Health] Minister [Ivan Lewis] insisted that the decision be reviewed against the Government’s new strategy for the elderly mentally ill. However, the plans for the hospital’s future have been badly handled from the outset. A lot of people will feel let down.

“Some of the facilities were relatively new and supported by charitable funding.

“I have, however, had assurances in writing from the mental health trust that the site will be used for health-related purposes and I am trying to establish what those plans now are.”

An NHS Richmond spokeswoman said it was felt the “high standard of care” at St John’s could be provided at a reduced cost elsewhere and when a formal tendering process for the borough’s elderly mentally-ill continuing care service began the mental health trust did not bid.

She explained care homes operator Caring Homes, which won the contract, was due to open a home for patients in Sandy Lane, Teddington, but when the project was delayed it was decided to move St John’s residents into other homes.

She added: “NHS Richmond will carry on working with Caring Homes with a view to having a small contract for continuing care beds once the service is available.

“It is expected that the new nursing home will be open in spring 2010.”