Plans to close two community hospitals in Oxfordshire will almost certainly end up on health secretary Frank Dobson's desk.

Oxfordshire health authority agreed last week to close Watlington and Burford hospitals and cut services at five more community hospitals. A new unit will be built at Bicester, in the north of the county, leading to a net loss of 52 beds across Oxfordshire.

The HA says the proposals will save 1.5m by 2001, modernise services and redress a lack of community hospitals in north Oxfordshire.

But an extraordinary meeting of Oxfordshire community health council today is expected to reject the plans and refer them to Mr Dobson for a final decision.

CHC chief officer Penny Thewlis said: 'We have a different view of what constitutes a modern service to the HA.

'We see these community hospitals as providing a leading edge, low-tech service close to patients.

'The system is already under stress. These closures will create even more pressure.'

The HA put two sets of proposals for reshaping community services out to public consultation in April. Its final plans retain Wallingford Hospital, which was originally earmarked for closure.

Burford Hospital is home to a world-renowned centre for treating Alzheimer's disease. 'People at Burford say you cannot just transfer this service to another location - it's all about the culture of care,' said Ms Thewlis.

Campaign group Save Oxfordshire Community Hospitals and Services has organised a 64,000- signature petition against all community hospital closures. It staged a march on Parliament to lobby Mr Dobson and local MPs earlier this month.

Steve Akers, Oxfordshire branch secretary of Unison, said: 'We expect the CHC will reject the plans and refer them to Mr Dobson.

'We will be maintaining the campaign against the closures, which are purely financially driven. We will also be seeking a meeting with Mr Dobson and local MPs.'

Oxfordshire HA also agreed a radical shake-up of Oxford's acute services last week, at the end of a separate consultation exercise.

Board members agreed to relocate head and neck services and genito-urinary medicine from the Radcliffe Infirmary to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Headington.

A diabetic centre and geratology services will be developed on the site of nearby Churchill Hospital. The Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre will be redeveloped.

An HA spokesperson said it was not clear how long the community hospital plans would be held up if a decision passes to Mr Dobson. The health secretary still has to deliver a verdict on plans to close four community hospitals in Cornwall which were passed to him in January.