The government has been criticised for its dysfunctional handling of hospital reconfiguration in a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research this week.

It argues that reform of popular district general hospitals is necessary, but adds: 'At present, the politics and process of reconfiguration is dysfunctional.'

The public believes reconfiguration is based on short-term financial imperatives, it says. However, reconfiguration could deliver significant benefits with the potential to save£1bn and 13,000 beds a year while providing safer services, it adds. Its analysis shows that supercentres to treat heart attack patients could save 5,000 lives a year by giving patients access to the best treatments. Specialist trauma centres could save 770 lives.

Fewer hospital beds could also mean a more efficient service, it argues. Its analysis shows that the more beds an area has, the longer patients stay in hospital, suggesting it is bed availability rather than medical need that dictates unnecessary stays.

The failure of politicians, the public, professions and patients to engage in the change means that benefits will not be realised.

IPPR associate director Richard Brooks said: 'Hospitals should change for health reasons, not because of short-term cost cutting.'