CAMPAIGNERS say that “lives will be lost” after Poole council delayed a decision on whether to support a review of plans to overhaul Dorset’s NHS services, including the loss of the town's A&E department, to the health secretary.

At Tuesday’s full council meeting, Conservative members voted to pass responsibility for responding to a motion calling for it to back Dorset County Council’s referral to its health scrutiny committee, rather than decide on the night.

However, Cllr Mark Howell, who made the request, criticised the decision, accusing the council of "kicking the issue into the long grass".

Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) contentious clinical services review (CSR) seeks to create specialist treatment centres in the county as well as to reduce a projected £158m-a-year funding shortfall.

If approved, it would see Royal Bournemouth Hospital (RBH) would be developed into a ‘major emergency’ centre with Poole Hospital becoming a focus for ‘major planned care’, which the CCG says will improve patient care.

As part of this, the A&E department in Poole would be lost – as well as its maternity and paediatric services.

But campaigners from the Defend Dorset NHS group have estimated that “at least 183” people a year will die as a result of the longer travel time to access emergency treatment.

Last month, Dorset County Council’s health scrutiny committee agreed to refer the CSR to the Secretary of State for health, Matt Hancock, in response to these concerns and the future of community hospitals.

At Tuesday’s Poole council meeting, Cllr Howell, made a request that they back the move.

He said: “It has now become clear that the decision to move A&E from Poole Hospital to RBH was fundamentally flawed.

“RBH is poorly located for people living in Poole and the Purbecks and already suffers from major congestion issues.

“From the perspective of serving the whole county, and in respect of sustainable travel, the choice of RBH is complete nonsense.”

His motion had originally called for the council to make its own referral to Mr Hancock but was amended to request that the authority just support the county council’s move.

However, despite the support of 10 councillors for the issue to be considered at the meeting, Conservative councillors backed the issue being considered by Poole council’s health scrutiny committee.

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Howell criticised the decision, saying that it would take “several months” for the committee to carry out a review.

"Yet again, the Conservatives in Poole have bowed to the orders of senior members of their party rather than standing up for the interests of their constituents," he said.

“We do not know whether these orders came from the Bournemouth-focused clique leading the merger of the three councils or the national party but the result is clear – lives of Poole residents will be lost, and many more people will be faced with longer journeys to hospital.”

The council’s cabinet member for health, Cllr Karen Rampton, said that it would have been a “knee-jerk reaction” to have made a decision on Tuesday.

“You can’t just refer something,” she said. "You have to have concrete evidence about what it will mean and the scrutiny committee can do this.”

A special meeting of the council’s health scrutiny committee will now be arranged to consider the motion.