A hospital reconfiguration plan has been suspended two years after controversial plans were first floated.

West Sussex primary care trust announced last week it was suspending the "Fit for the Future" process because two of the trusts involved - the Royal West Sussex, and Worthing and Southlands Hospitals - had agreed a merger in principle.

The proposed changes to services at St Richard's Hospital, Chichester, and Worthing Hospital had already been referred to the health secretary. The independent reconfiguration panel had carried out an assessment of the proposals and was waiting to hear if the health secretary wanted it to do more detailed work.

Gone for good

West Sussex county council leader Henry Smith (Con) called for the plan to be shelved permanently. "Enough time, money and anguish has been spent on it over the last two years," he said. The council did not want "to see a reduction in services at the three main hospitals in West Sussex", he added.

Chichester Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie said: "The public outcry if they were to revive the process would be very large... I would certainly demand the recommencement of the consultation process."

Under the suspended proposals, St Richard's would have lost consultant-led maternity services and paediatric inpatients. Both hospitals would retain accident and emergency but with some emergency surgery centralised. The Princess Royal at Haywards Heath would also lose consultant-led maternity services.

PCT chief executive John Wilderspin said the decision to suspend would affect all the proposals including those at Haywards Heath, which is run by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals trust. The PCT will discuss progress in January next year.

Modern services

Mr Wilderspin said: "Our goal has always been to ensure... 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 ensure this is achieved."

The proposals were part of a two-year examination of acute services across Surrey and Sussex. In the end, the proposals for Surrey were modest, and in East Sussex the only ones that made it as far as consultation were for a single consultant-led maternity unit to replace the two at Eastbourne and Hastings. This was rejected by the health secretary, on the IRP's advice, earlier this year.