A team of independent experts on NHS change yesterday visited, for the first time, a Birmingham hospital whose A&E services are set to be downgraded.

The Independent Reconfiguration Panel was called in by the Government to assess the safety of proposals put forward by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.

Seven members of IRP spent the day at City Hospital, in Winson Green, which will retain a 24-hour surgical team but the majority of A&E patients will be sent to Sandwell Hospital instead - six miles away in West Bromwich.

The city council's health scrutiny committee was so worried about plans put forward by the trust that it referred the plans to Health Secretary Alan Johnson.

Gina Tiller, lead panel member for the visit and chairman of the Newcastle Primary Care Trust, said transport links were often "a crucial issue" where services are to be moved or reconfigured.

"I've got multiple sclerosis, so I'll be very interested to see how patients and our panel manage to get around on the buses between both sites," said Ms Tiller.

"I know it's often not as simple as getting on a bus for ten minutes to get to a hospital or medical centre. That's why this is often a crucial issue in these reviews.

"We've heard about how City sees a lot of patients with gunshot or stab wounds, and how its surgeons have specialist skills in treating these kinds of injuries.

"I understand these patients can come into A&E in various ways, not necessarily by ambulance, and that may have to be considered alongside the trust's proposals."

The first evidence sessions, which will be held at venues in Birmingham and Sandwell, will be on October 3 and 4.

Anyone who has information to offer can contact the IRP by emailing 2010IRP@westmidlands.nhs.uk or by calling them on 0121 695 2469.