There seems to be no such thing as too early to start a consultation in Hampshire, although it seems health chiefs have rather jumped the gun in announcing a 12-week consultation.

The debate will be over plans that would downgrade the A&E services currently at Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester – and develop a brand new hospital either in Basingstoke or near junction 7 of the M3. This would be a new centre covering specialist and emergency care, such as strokes, heart attacks, trauma as well as children’s emergency care.

So emergency patients in Winchester would have to travel 20 miles to Basingstoke – or 13 miles to Southampton, which is likely to face the biggest impact.

The plan has already triggered a 12,000-signature online petition opposing the loss of services in Winchester, and similar concerns publicly raised by local MP Steve Brine. Now the controversial options are to be put out to a 12-week consultation on December 11.

But it’s not clear why there should be such a rush to make a decision: despite the upbeat claims from Hampshire Hospitals boss Alex Whitfield that “we will receive between £700 and £900 million to invest in a new hospital and improvements at Winchester,” the actual cash is very far from being shelled out.

Former Health Secretary Steve Barclay [remember him?] announced back in May that Hampshire was one of eight major hospital schemes to be shelved until after 2030, as a way of pruning more than £10 billion from the New Hospitals Programme’s estimated (but unfunded) £32 billion cost.

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