A controversial hospital reconfiguration has cut death rates and the time patients are staying in hospital, early figures suggest.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust closed acute services at Hemel Hempstead Hospital, including its accident and emergency department, and opened a 120 bed acute admissions unit at Watford General Hospital.

It is about as big a project as there can be in an acute hospital trust. You have to prepare for it properly, resource it properly and be realistic about the timescale

Chief executive Jan Filochowski

Planning started in 2003 and, after facing strong local opposition, the unit was opened and old services were closed between February and March this year.

Early figures show the average length of stay has since fallen by 1.9 days to 5.4. Standardised mortality ratio and readmission rates have also fallen.

Acute and emergency services manager Pat Reid said it had so far coped with demand despite the overall reduction in beds.

However, she said: “We are still being cautious - we have to acknowledge we haven’t had winter yet.”

The acute services have been redesigned to have acute consultants working at the front line every day, with visits by specialists. Patients have been diagnosed and treated faster, requiring fewer beds. Specialist consultants, particularly cardiologists, also visit the unit more regularly in “hit teams”.

Ms Reid said: “The whole model of losing [beds] means you have to do something quite radical.”

Chief executive Jan Filochowski, who joined the trust in 2007, delayed the reconfiguration after he arrived and decided it had not been properly planned.

He said: “It is about as big a project as there can be in an acute hospital trust. You have to prepare for it properly, resource it properly and be realistic about the timescale.”