A LEGAL challenge has been made which could derail plans to shake up NHS services in Dorset.

The Echo has received a message sent by Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals (RBCH) chief executive Tony Spotswood to its governors, in which he warns that the judicial review could lead to delays and even a trip back to the drawing board.

There has been considerable public opposition to NHS Dorset's Clinical Services Review, which includes plans to close A&E and maternity services at Poole Hospital.

It has also led to the resurrection of plans to merge Bournemouth and Poole hospitals, with the former taking on the role of major emergency centre for the east of the county.

It is not currently known who has secured the review, although a group of campaigners known as Defend Dorset NHS is known to have raised some £3,500 in crowdfunding pledges towards that goal, with the backing of groups like Keep Our NHS Public Dorset, Keep Kingfisher and Maternity at DCH a 24/7 Consultant Led Unit, and Swanage Labour.

A full review could cost the applicant tens of thousands of pounds however.

In his message to governors, Mr Spotswood said: "This challenge has the potential to delay proceeding with the merger and the proposed reconfiguration of services and, at worst, it could require the CCG (NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group) to consider its proposals again. The most likely impact however could be to slow the work to introduce these changes and delay the benefits for patients."

He said the review will "challenge" numerous parts of the proposal, including "a reduction in bed numbers, travel times and aspects of the decision-making process".

He said the CCG is taking legal advice on how to respond to the challenge. "It is anticipated that by the end of March it will be clear as to how the matter will be considered and over what timeframe," he said.

"Meanwhile we are continuing with work to advance both the CSR proposals and merger however we are alert to the possibility that this may need to be held pending the outcome of the judicial review."