Patients will die if cuts to Midland A&E units are pushed through, forcing people to travel further afield to access emergency care, health leaders claimed last night.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans for a new three-tier A&E system, outlined in his address to primary care trust bosses in London yesterday, have raised fears that lives could be at risk.
According to a Conservative Party report, the future of four emergency units in the region, remains uncertain amid a swathe of NHS cuts and reforms.
City Hospital's A&E unit, in Winson Green, sees more than 90,000 people a year and is likely to be downsized or moved to West Bromwich, where a new 'super hospital' is set to be built.
Ann Leedham-Smith, regional director of the Royal College of Nursing, claimed that City and Good Hope Hospital, in Sutton Coldfield, were both "obvious choices" to lose their A&E departments.
She said that shutting emergency units would only put more pressure on remaining facilities, adding: "We need more A&E capacity, not less, as staff in all units are already working flat out to see everyone.
"Look at what happened when Kidderminster was downgraded, people had to go to Worcester and now they can't cope as they're not getting the support from A&E.
"Not only will these reforms, which will no doubt result in closures, going to put patients' lives at risk by travelling further but also we could see a return to 24-hour waits, which were common ten years ago."
Esther Low, Unison's representative for Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust – which runs City and Sandwell – said the extra minutes and miles could result in more fatalities on the way to A&E.
Construction of the new 'super hospital' on the existing Sandwell site is set to begin in 2010 and due to open in 2013.