15% of England's A&E departments 'face being downgraded or closed'
Some 24 A&E departments in England could be shut or downgraded in the coming years, according to a new analysis.
Research by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) shows around 15% of the total number of A&Es in England could be closed or downgraded, affecting 33 hospitals.
The analysis includes details in sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) - which NHS England has said every region must draw up to show how they intend to deal with financial challenges in the NHS while transforming services.
The seven hospitals for which there are clear, public proposals for downgrade or closure include the planned closures of Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust's City Hospital and Sandwell District General Hospital emergency departments, which are due to be replaced by a new department at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital scheduled to open in 2018, the HSJ reported.
Others are under discussion and no final decision has been made.
The King's Fund's director of policy Richard Murray told the HSJ that the number of potential downgrades "is not high enough to conclude we are seeing a radical redrawing of urgent and emergency care, but it is high enough to suggest a lot of political noise and require a lot of potentially noisy public consultations".
Dr Chris Moulton, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned the NHS does not have enough capacity for a growing and ageing population.
"Any A&E closures must be very carefully considered for patient safety, patient convenience and the effects on neighbouring departments that would have to absorb the extra patient attendances," he said.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb raised concerns that the plans were going ahead without the public being consulted.
"People won't put up with the destruction of local services imposed from on high," he said.
An NHS England spokesman said: "The number of people seeking urgent care is on the rise so overall we expect the range of services available to them to expand over coming years.
"Within that overall expansion, it may be possible to improve care and save lives with some concentration of specialist urgent services.
"This approach has increased the chances of surviving a major trauma in this country by 50%, and only today the Stroke Association have called for more concentration of stroke units to improve outcomes.
"However we do not expect significant numbers of A&E changes in the years ahead, and some of the schemes mentioned in this story such as Sandwell and City Hospitals were in fact decided on many years ago, so this is a rehash of old news."