More than 100 beds and up to 300 jobs could go under plans drawn up by Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health authority to shut four community hospitals.
The proposal, which has the backing of local NHS trusts, is intended to provide more care outside hospital close to people's homes. But it is driven by the authority's need to save pounds 5m to meet its current deficit.
Dr Stan Dennison, chairman of the authority, said the cuts resulted from the discrimination Cornwall suffered under the standard funding formula. Scotland and Wales, with similar problems of scattered population and long journeys to specialist centres, received 20 per cent more in health funding per person, he said.
Matthew Taylor, Liberal Democrat MP for Truro, blamed the move on the underfunding of the NHS. He said: "I guarantee if these cuts go ahead we will exercise our right to force the matter on to the desk of the Secretary of State for a final decision."
The hospital closures, and reductions in maternity and in-patient beds in the county, would reduce the number of community hospital beds from 453 to 324, said the authority, but the number of community nurses, providing care in people's homes, had been increased.
Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, said that if there were objections from local community health councils during the three-month consultation process he would take the final decision. "It does not necessarily follow that those hospitals will close just because it has been proposed," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Jean Trainor, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "Much of what Cornwall proposes follows action elsewhere to provide more appropriate care by closing down ineffective and costly hospitals, and providing more care closer to people's homes. But it is almost impossible to take these sensible measures against a backdrop of financial problems."Reuse content