CAMPAIGNERS have expressed concerns over plans to reshape health services, which could lead to the closure of a North-East accident and emergency department.

Members of Keep Our NHS Public County Durham fear the introduction of a draft Sustainability and Transformation Plan would mean shutting a casualty department in either Darlington Memorial Hospital or North Tees Hospital in Stockton.

They also think it could mean reduced emergency services at the University Hospital of North Durham, with people having to travel further for consultant-led maternity and paediatric treatment.

The group attended North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group's focus group event at North Road Methodist Church, Durham City, on Tuesday, to challenge health bosses over the proposals.

Spokesman Carole Reeves, who is also governor at County Durham and Darlington Foundation Trust, said: “People are not going to be able to access services and people are going to suffer.

“It is really serious and this is very much top down. It is maternity, paediatrics and accident and emergency which are being clobbered most.”

It was hoped the focus group event on will help shape the plan ahead of formal consultation on the draft next year.

Mrs Reeves added: “They have only looked at the financial impact, they have not looked at the impact on patients and other services.

“If they close Darlington, what would the impact be on Durham, which is already getting 65,000 patients a year.

“We will see a rise in Durham when the hospital can already not cope.

“Hospitals are on such a knife edge at the moment and the NHS is already under enormous strain.

“We have got a wonderful thing in the NHS but they have got to fund it properly.”

The Sustainability and Transformation Plan proposals are being drawn up across the country to meet significant cuts in funding and aim to show how services in each region will evolve and become sustainable over the next five years.

Michael Houghton, director of commissioning and development at NHS North Durham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “The views of local people are very important to us and it was good to see that people were passionate at our engagement session today and have taken such an active interest in the draft plan.

"The draft plan is just that: a draft, and no decisions have been made.

“We will continue to engage with and speak to local people over the coming months, with a formal public consultation likely to take place in the summer of 2017."