The financial consequences of halting proposed service changes should be taken into account, the Independent Reconfiguration Panel has said.

The ruling was made in relation to changes to maternity and children’s services at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Trust.

But the IRP said: “The NHS has made a substantial long term commitment to the private finance initiative development at Pembury, based on the agreement to the redesign of services for women and children.

“At this late stage the adverse financial consequences on local health services of a change in direction are a legitimate consideration.”

The panel also said the changes were “not suitable for full review”.

The ruling may have repercussions for other reconfigurations where substantial investment has been made or contracts signed for new facilities.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley endorsed the panel’s advice for Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, saying his new criteria for assessing reconfigurations should not prejudice work on the new hospital, which is due to open in six months.

Mr Lansley’s comments suggest he may take a pragmatic view in such situations - despite his decision to halt well advanced plans for maternity services in Manchester. The changes, which will see many services concentrated at the new Pembury Hospital, were referred to the IRP by former health secretary Andy Burnham after Kent’s health scrutiny committee asked him to look again at the proposals.

The plans had originally been consulted on in 2004 and a joint health scrutiny committee then raised no objections. The Pembury Hospital is designed to take all consultant-led births from the area, as well as inpatient care for children and babies.

Campaigners in Maidstone wanted to keep more services at the town’s hospital.

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