A CONTROVERSIAL shake-up of NHS services in Dorset – including the closure of Poole Hospital’s A&E department – will be referred to the Secretary of State for health, following a narrow vote by a council committee.

Members of Dorset County Council’s health scrutiny committee voted against a motion which called for no challenge to be made on Wednesday.

It followed a series of protests ahead of the meeting by campaign groups opposed to the raft of changes proposed by Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Its clinical services review was made public in 2016 as part of work to reduce the a funding shortfall, which is predicted to be as much as £158m a year by 2021, and to further develop specialist hubs across the county.

Through this, the CCG hopes to move Poole’s A&E, maternity and paediatric departments to Royal Bournemouth hospital as well as reduce the number of beds at community hospitals across the county.

The proposals have attracted fierce criticism and a legal challenge by Swanage resident Anna Hinsull.

The judicial review was dismissed by a high court judge in September, but last week campaigners announced that they had applied for permission to appeal the judgement.

Defend Dorset NHS has warned that the changes would put hundreds of people every year at “substantial risk” of harm.

The group said: “A Dorset A&E doctor reviewing the cases in the report said just under half were in imminent danger of dying.

“This scales up to 183 deaths per year but does not include those emergencies not arriving in ambulances: 80 per cent of maternity, most child, and a significant minority of adult, emergencies.

Members of the county council’s health scrutiny committee were asked to support a motion to not refer the issue to the health secretary, Matt Hancock, for independent review.

Campaigners protested against the recommendation ahead of Wednesday’s meeting and welcomed the defeat of the move by councillors’ six votes to four.

They argued that the CCG had not properly assessed travel times from some parts of the county nor considered local alternatives to community hospitals earmarked for closure.

Committee chairman Cllr Bill Pipe described the vote as “unfortunate” but Cllr Nick Ireland praised the decision.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “I have been voting against a referral since last November and my position hasn’t changed.

“People in south and west Dorset would be inconvenienced [by the proposed changes] and this would be to their detriment.”

Following the meeting, Dorset CCG chief officer, Tim Goodson, said that he “respected” the committee’s decision to make the referral and that he was “content” to provide “whatever evidence” may be required for Mr Hancock to make a decision on its proposals.