A controversial reconfiguration plan has been put on hold - because two of the trusts affected are likely to merge. The boards of Royal West Sussex trust - based in Chichester - and Worthing and Southlands Hospitals trust have agreed the merger in principle and are now doing detailed work.

Changes to acute services at the trusts are being looked at by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, after West Sussex PCT approved a plan that would see Chichester lose consultant maternity services and paediatric inpatients. Both hospitals would retain an accident and emergency, although some emergency surgery would be centralised.

But the PCT announced on Tuesday that it was putting decisions about service reconfiguration "formally on hold" because of the potential merger.

Services in jeopardy

PCT chief executive John Wilderspin said: "This includes all aspects of the proposals affecting consultant-led maternity services at Princess Royal Hospital and consultant-led maternity services, inpatient paediatrics and emergency surgery at Royal West Sussex trust and Worthing and Southlands Hospitals trust."

The PCT will discuss progress at its meeting in January next year. The Princess Royal Hospital, in Haywards Heath, is run by Brighton and Sussex University Hospital trust and had been due to lose its consultant-led maternity services under the shake-up.

Mr Wilderspin said: "Our goal has always been to ensure a robust future for providers of healthcare so that West Sussex health services are safe, sustainable and meet the best standards of modern medicine. A strong merged trust on the south coast would help to ensure this is achieved."

The chairmen of the two trusts, Susan Pyper (RWST) and Tom Robson (WASH), said: "This reorganisation of the way the hospitals are managed would enable the best elements of each organisation to be embedded into one strong acute trust." A merger would be "the best way to deliver sustainable healthcare services in West Sussex," they added.