Local authorities last night agreed to refer plans for a controversial reorganisation of vascular services across Cheshire and Merseyside to health secretary Andrew Lansley.

Councillor Tony Higgins, chair of the joint health overview and scrutiny committee for Warrington, Halton and St Helens councils, told HSJ the referral would be on the grounds that the changes would have a “detrimental effect” on their local populations.

The proposed changes would relocate all arterial surgery in Cheshire and Merseyside, to two sites, designated as “arterial centres”. In the South Mersey area this would mean moving the services out of Warrington Hospital in the east and Wirral’s Arrowe Park Hospital in the west. They would transfer to the Countess of Chester Hospital Foundation Trust.

Councils local to each of the hospitals that would lose services had argued that their own providers should be the arterial centre for the south of the region.

Councillor Higgins said of the referral, which was forecast earlier this month in HSJ Local Briefing: “This is our final shot at this. Over 70 per cent of people [who took part in the public consultation] disagree with the changes.

“We’ve got to listen to that. We still believe these changes are wrong.”

However, Warrington Clinical Commissioning Group opposed the councillors’ decision. Sarah Baker, chief clinical officer of the CCG, said it was important to “implement the specialist arterial centre as soon as possible, so that Warrington patients can start to benefit from improved outcomes”.

They were concerned that a referral to the health secretary would “simply delay” the “improvements this new service will bring”.

NHS Cheshire, Warrington and Wirral communications director Martin McEwan said the primary care trust cluster was “disappointed but not surprised” at the committee’s decision. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got three good hospitals that the three local populations are very proud of, but we’ve got to make a decision for the whole of Cheshire and Merseyside,” he said.

The commissioners aim to have the arterial centre for South Mersey ready for April 2013. The reconfiguration plans are a response to Vascular Society guidance that concentrating the services in high-volume specialist centres will better prevent unnecessary deaths, strokes and amputations.