NHS bosses have defended a planned shake-up of hospital services in Calderdale and Huddersfield after safety fears were raised.
Concerns that patients could be harmed by longer journeys for treatment or more transfers between hospitals were raised at a meeting of a council health watchdog.
Calderdale and Kirklees joint health scrutiny committee was hearing evidence on plans to centralise A&E care at an expanded hospital in Halifax.
Huddersfield’s existing infirmary will be knocked down if the plans go ahead and replaced with a smaller site designed for planned NHS treatments.
Up to 300 beds would be added to Calderdale Royal Hospital, which would get a beefed-up A&E to serve the two towns. Both towns would have urgent care centres treating minor ailments.
Speaking at the meeting at Halifax Town Hall, retired eye consultant Colin Hutchinson said it would be harder to respond if a patient’s condition deteriorated suddenly if emergency care was centralised at one site.
He said: “The result would be more days being closed to emergency admissions and patients being diverted to surrounding hospitals.”
Health bosses say the proposals, designed to tackle a £280m funding gap, would free-up beds and make the best use of resources by reducing the need for people to be admitted to hospital.
But NHS campaigner Chris Owen was worried about longer journeys to the A&E in Halifax and patients being stuck on the road between the two towns.
He said: “I have been speaking to several high-level clinicians and they are disgusted and thoroughly opposed to these proposals. On that by-pass, that’s where people will die. We have to stop this now.”
Coun Elizabeth Smaje, who co-chairs the committee, asked about women in labour being transferred between the two hospitals after consultant-led maternity services were centralised at Calderdale Royal under a previous shake-up.
Births which are not deemed to be high risk can still happen at a midwife-led centre in Huddersfield.
Coun Smaje said: “How many births have happened during transfer? How many patients have been badly affected or have died because of being transferred between one hospital and another?”
Martin Debono, a consultant gynaecologist at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are confident that we have not had any births on the by-pass during transfer.
“We are confident that the reconfiguration of maternity services has not added any risk. In fact we know it has reduced the risks to maternity services.”
Information sessions and public meetings have been organised as part of a 14-week public consultation by Calderdale and Greater Huddersfield Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).
The meeting was told the main concerns raised about the shake-up were travel times and the A&E downgrade for Huddersfield, when big changes to planned care and diagnostics were also proposed.
Dr Alan Brook, who chairs Calderdale CCG, said: “It’s a shame that the agenda has been dominated by these simplified themes.”