Concerned campaigners are urging MPs to block a new law which they fear could see Epsom Hospital downgraded with minimal public consultation.
The Government is facing mounting pressure over Clause 118 of the Care Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.
The clause states that a "trust administrator" taking action in relation to a hospital trust in financial difficulties would be able to take action "in relation to another NHS trust, which is necessary for and consequential on action taken in relation to that NHS trust".
Campaigners argue that this would give them the power to close hospitals near a hospital trust in financial difficulties - as was the case last year with Lewisham Hospital, in southeast London.
The clause provides clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) with 40 days to consult on any changes proposed by a trust administrator, massively limiting the sort of public consultation which health campaigners believe eventually resulted in Surrey Downs CCG (SDCCG) walking out on the controversial Better Services Better Value (BSBV) review.
It also says the views of a CCG could be overruled by NHS England, resulting in local decision-makers potentially having no real power over key reconfigurations of their hospital services.
Epsom health activist Bob Mackison urged people to contact Epsom's MP, Chris Grayling, to oppose Clause 118, saying it is "a big step in the wrong direction".
But Mr Grayling has insisted that it is a technical clause which gives no cause for concern.
Jane Race, who campaigned extensively against the BSBV review, said: "The Government may wish to have wider powers to plan for all health services in a region, however, we saw, under the BSBV proposals, that if planners are from other areas that they wish to improve, there is a danger that they ignore the evidence, of both the quality of local hospitals and the potential lack of provision of vital services locally, in order to move resources to struggling areas.
"Epsom Hospital is a good case in point. It was only because the CCG listened to local GPs who knew their patients' needs, and also carried out investigations into what Epsom can provide, that they decided to withdraw from the process.
"The answer must be to allow local doctors to work with central planners so that any future health services provide good quality care for all patients."
Residents Association and Independent Surrey County Councillor Nick Harrison, who represents Nork and Tattenhams, was made aware of the clause by worried constituents and agreed that SDCGG’s consultation with the public and GPs was key in halting the BSBV process.
He said: "Clause 118 is aimed at loss-making trusts and Epsom and St Helier are a loss-making trust so it is worrying that the Secretary of State could step in and direct changes which haven’t gone through the proper levels of consultation.
"After so much public consultation and input into what should happen at Epsom, the Secretary of State could just dictate what happens."
Coun Harrison said a public meeting held by SDCCG at Epsom Downs Racecourse last May sent a "strong message" to the commissioners.
He added: "The analysis on the options by the CCG was very well-constructed and I wouldn’t want them to be overruled without any proper consideration of local issues.
"Contact your MPs. It’s a Conservative Government - they are Conservative MPs. Given the way they have stood up for Epsom Hospital in the past, I hope that would continue."
Richard Davy, a director of Healthwatch Surrey, which represents patients’ views, said the 40-day consultation period allowed for in Clause 118 would reduce local accountability.
He added: "It’s quite a limited time to gather all the views of people in Surrey who may be affected by any changes.
"Even though BSBV has been shut down, if any plans are regenerated, the new legislation will affect them."
Speaking to the Epsom Guardian this morning, Mr Grayling said people had gotten "the wrong end of the stick".
He said: "People do not need to be worried about this.
"Some of the pressure groups have misleading concerns as to what Clause 118 is about.
"What the clause does not do is to create a situation where the Government can unilaterally close down Epsom’s A&E department without public consultation and all the processes we have gone through over many years.
"If it did, it would be intolerable, I would not remotely accept it and Jeremy Hunt would not have proposed it.
"It is a technical clause to do with the technical relationship between a trust administrator and the Government where a trust is in special measures."
Contact Healthwatch Surrey with your views on Clause 118 by calling 03033030023 or by clicking here.
Are you worried by Clause 118? Email Hardeep Matharu on firstname.lastname@example.org
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