The Conservatives have pledged to save the district general hospital, in what is being widely seen as an opening salvo in the run-up to a possible autumn snap election.

Leader David Cameron said the party had a list of 29 hospitals under threat of losing accident and emergency or maternity units.

A briefing paper claimed there was 'a paucity of evidence' to support the closures.

The Department of Health
disputed the list of hospitals, claiming eight had been wrongly included. King's Fund policy director Dr Jennifer Dixon said any blanket opposition to local service
reconfiguration was likely to be unsustainable.

'They have not explained how they will tackle the thornier problems relating to district generals, where there is a conflict between old buildings and responding to changes in medicine and patient expectations.'