A CAMPAIGNER and a former MP have backed an open letter to the Prime Minister which calls for a halt to the downgrading of hospital accident and emergency departments.

The letter from a lobby of 140 senior doctors speaks to David Cameron of alarm over plans to centralise or downgrade A&E departments across the country.

The letter refers to risks to people’s health, longer journeys to hospital that would result from closures, longer waiting times for people in rural areas in particular and the overcrowding of those A&E units which remain open.

Although no plans have yet been announced, health bosses plan to meet in Worcestershire at a steering group meeting tomorrow to decide the future of the county’s NHS.

Models published so far suggest an A&E department and maternity services could close at one of Worcestershire’s hospitals, sparking fears about the future of the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch rather than the newer PFI Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester.

The joint services review has been given the task with making savings of £50 million from our hospitals over the next three years – the share of £200 million savings which must be made across the NHS in Worcestershire.

A shortlist of options to achieve this saving could be published soon after the meeting.

The shortlist was delayed last month because the review panel said that it needed more information.

Dr Richard Taylor, the retired hospital consultant and former Wyre Forest MP who was elected to fight the downgrading of Kidderminster Hospital a decade ago, said he supported “every word” of the open letter.

He said: “We’re not against change but the changes have got to be right, driven by genuine improvements in clinical care. A&Es are so absolutely vital. If Redditch loses its A&E it is going to be even worse than it was for us (when Kidderminster lost its A&E).”

Dr Taylor, who is on the stakeholder reference board, which is designed to represent patients and the public during the consultation, praised the way the consultation for the joint services review had been carried out, describing it as “good” and “fair”.

Dr Taylor attributes improved consultation to the ‘Kidderminster effect’, which he believes led to the development of watchdogs such as the health overview and scrutiny committee and the independent reconfiguration panel.

Dr Taylor, who is now involved with a new political party, National Health Action, said: “It’s a different ball game entirely. They are listening.”

Robin Walker, MP for Worcester, said he wanted to wait until the shortlist was announced before commenting.

Neal Stote, chairman of the Save the Alex campaign, referring to the open letter, said: “We would like to see Worcestershire doctors sign up to a similar thing as well.”