Worcester Acute Hospitals trust has moved to strip Kidderminster General Hospital of its acute inpatient services up to two years earlier than planned in an apparent bid to outfox campaigners opposed to the move.
The Health Concern Keeping Kidderminster Hospital Alive Party won a sweeping victory in local elections this month, taking 11 seats on the council to add to the eight it won last year.
But managers told staff last week that expert clinical advice meant 'there should be no delay in implementing the changes to hospital services'planned by Worcestershire health authority and the new trust, formed last month in a three-way merger.
Kidderminster had 'already fragile clinical coverage in some specialties', which the trust wanted to stop before patients were put at risk.
Dr Richard Taylor, one of the campaign's leaders, said patients from Kidderminster would be forced into 'hopelessly inadequate' accommodation in Worcester, in buildings so poor they were due to be replaced by a new hospital being built under the private finance initiative by 2002.
'The trust is quite right: services are now untenable in Kidderminster because senior nurses and doctors have left because of the strain of these plans, ' he said.
But the campaigners were determined to fight on, he added, demanding that health secretary Alan Milburn step in to stop the plans.
Worcestershire HA chief executive Pat Archer-Jones defended the decision to speed up the move, despite the verdict of local voters, saying a decision had already been taken 'in principle'.
'It would have been ill-advised to delay until the new hospital was open. We have canvassed clinical opinion pretty widely.'
But she did say the election results 'clearly send a strong message to us that we have to improve our communications and share our concerns about clinical safety and service improvements'.