The heads of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Medical Association have given their support to government plans for the closure up to 60 hospital departments.

Leaders of both bodies said the "reconfiguration" was needed to create more efficient medical centres.

The plans - which have been partly driven by a £512m NHS deficit - would involve the closure of casualty departments, small midwife-led maternity units and children's centres in small hospitals.

Hospitals in towns that have fewer than 250,000 people would close, with minor-injury units replacing casualty departments.

James Johnson, head of the BMA, said that political timidity had prevented the changes taking place earlier. Both bodies said that restructuring should only begin once the right facilities were in place in communities.