Options which would leave either the Conquest Hospital in Hastings or Eastbourne District General Hospital without consultant-led maternity services, a special care baby unit and inpatient gynaecology will be discussed by PCTs this week, with consultation starting at the end of the month.
But consultations in West Sussex, Brighton and Hove and probably Surrey will not go ahead until after the May local elections.
East Worthing and Shoreham Conservative MP Tim Loughton said: 'This is a very cynical ploy influenced by political considerations when the only thing of importance to local users of the hospital is what is best for their services and their health. We need to see all the proposals together because they are interlinked.'
NHS South East Coast chief executive Candy Morris said: 'We recognise this prolongs the uncertainty for patients and staff, but [we] believe getting the right proposals is the most important thing if we are to create the modern health services that local people need and deserve.'
East Sussex is likely to be the least wide-ranging of the changes. PCT papers show a range of options,which are meant to preserve viable hospitals in both Eastbourne and Hastings. All options involve centralising consultant-led maternity services at one site, possibly with a midwife-led unit at the other. A special-care baby unit would be located alongside the consultant-led unit, together with inpatient gynaecological services. Day-to-day outpatient care would continue at both sites.
Proposals for West Sussex and Surrey may involve downgrading some district general hospitals and the loss of accident and emergency services. Those most at risk are the Princess Royal in Haywards Heath, the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, Worthing Hospital and St Richards Hospital in Chichester. Clinicians in several of these hospitals have been outspoken opponents of downgrading.
Massive public protests have been held in support of the threatened hospitals. A 'Save the Royal Surrey County Hospital' petition on the Number 10 website has more than 20,000 signatories.
PCTs and the strategic health authority have always argued that reconfiguration will involve strengthening community services and more appropriate care, not just changes to acute services.
An SHA spokesman said it made sense to delay consultation in West Sussex because Brighton and Hove unitary authority would be electing a new council in May, so its scrutiny committee might change.