A Hertfordshire trust has announced plans to withdraw services from one of its sites - just 12 days after a public board meeting at which the issue was not discussed.

A Hertfordshire trust has announced plans to withdraw services from one of its sites - just 12 days after a public board meeting at which the issue was not discussed.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals trust last week announced proposals to withdraw from one of its hospitals to help tackle a£28m deficit.

It said centralising services next year was the only way to save plans to redevelop Watford General Hospital in 2013, as part of a major reconfiguration across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, including a new hospital at Hatfield.

A number of services were due to be centralised as part of that reconfiguration. But chief executive David Law said the trust's financial position was now 'unsustainable', adding that without immediate change, the trust would be more than£100m in debt within five years. Overall, the health economy in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire ended the last year£108m overspent.

The project to redevelop the Watford site would not attract a private sector partner unless the trust gets its finances under control, he said, while running four sites - Watford, Hemel Hempstead, St Albans and Mount Vernon - 'is simply costing too much'.

Under the new proposals, acute services would be centralised at Watford from next year using 'modular buildings' to increase capacity: either St Albans or Hemel Hempstead Hospital would lose all trust-run services, with the other keeping elective surgery going until a new independent treatment centre is due to open in Hemel Hempstead in 2008.

The trust said it would work with primary and community services to define what services they would provide.

Details of the options the trust is considering were released on 6 June - just 12 days after a public board meeting where they were not discussed. Mr Law said the proposals emerged after the meeting, and were discussed by board members at a committee meeting.

Local councillors and MPs were incredulous at the way the trust announced the proposals, upon which consultation will open next month.

Last week the trust proposed consulting on three options, including one which would move acute services away from Watford: this was dropped within days when it was met by scepticism from the council?s health scrutiny committee.

Committee chair Michael Downing said: 'Going out to consultation and presenting an option which you know you are not going to implement just deepens the cynicism.'

Hemel Hempstead MP Mike Penning described the consultation as a 'sham' and said the Investing in Your Health reconfiguration across Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire which went out to consultation in 2003 had included extensive investment in community services.

Mr Law said much of this has taken place but Mr Downing said: 'The build-up of services in the community that should have happened in advance of the reconfiguration has not happened. People won't get services or will have to travel further. The message is it is going to get worse before it gets better.'

Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire SHA cited 'significant investment' in community services in other parts of Hertfordshire, including Herts and Essex Hospital and community hospitals in Cheshunt and Potters Bar, and said the number of frontline staff employed by PCTs had risen by 12 per cent.

An SHA spokesman said: 'The health secretary has acknowledged that the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire health economy faces systemic problems, and the prime minister is on record saying managers will get support from national politicians when grasping the nettle of restructuring.'

He added: 'We are confident that if we put together a robust, well-argued case for change which demonstrates how we can return to financial balance, then ministers would back the local health economy in consulting on these changes.'