NO CHANGE to the National Health Service in Hampshire is not an option, a public meeting heard.

Health chiefs told a meeting that the NHS must alter the way it cares for people at a time of spiralling demand and flatlining funding.

The meeting heard of the growing need for a new emergency treatment centre between Winchester and Basingstoke.

It would centralise the service for the most critically-ill 15 per cent of patients and replace the duplication of services at the North Hampshire Hospital in Basingstoke and the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester.

Andrew Bishop, interim chief executive of at the Hampshire Hospital NHS Foundation Trust that operates the NHH and RHCH, said it also made financial sense: “By centralising services we save more money than we spend in building the new hospital.

"This is not ‘investment’ it is modernisation. It will cost less to build the new hospital than not to build the new hospital.”

Myriddin Rees, a hospital consultant for 30 years and interim chief medical officer, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to have staff 24/7 in two intensive care units at Basingstoke and Winchester.

Plans had been due to be announced soon but the meeting heard that another review of the proposals was being carried out and also consider the implications for Southampton. It is now due to report towards the end of the summer.

The trust must also persuade the Government to allow it to borrow the money, said Steve Brine, Winchester MP, who organised the ASKtheNHS meeting at Ashburton Hall.

The managers stressed that the 85 per cent of patients would continue to be cared for at the two hospitals.

There is already much specialisation in services. People who suffer strokes in Basingstoke are taken to Winchester and heart attack victims in Winchester are likely to be taken by ambulance to Basingstoke.

The local NHS has produced a Sustainability and Transformation (STP) plan to tackle the likely reduction in funding in real terms coupled with the increasing demand.

Richard Samuel overseeing the STP in Hampshire, said they were looking at how GPs could provide more services. extended hours GP practices were working in Lymington and Gosport and extending this to Winchester was being considered for this year.

Staff shortages is a chronic problem with 12,000 vacant posts across Hampshire and the isle of Wight, some 30 per cent.

Mr Samuel said: “The workforce is already in short supply and continuing to operate the way we do will continue to be challenging unless we find different ways of doing things.”

Mr Bishop said the need to use agency staff was a “ludicrously expensive way to run services".

He said: "We spend £1m a day to keep the hospitals going. We were spending £1m a month on agency staff at the end of last year, half that now against a budget of £360m.”

Heather Hauschild, chief officer of the West Hampshire Clinical Commissioning Group, said it was spending £16 million a year using private hospitals for NHS care out of a £750m budget.

The private providers are paid at the same rate as NHS hospitals.

Many GP surgeries will become unsustainable because of shortages as many retire in the coming years.

Mr Samuel said patients would be encouraged to take more responsibility and ‘self care.’ he used the analogy of banking with cash dispensers and self-service at supermarkets.

Why could patients not access their records online, he said, arguing it was “bizarre” that 98 per cent of patient-doctor encounters were face to face.

HThe need for new ways of thinking was supported by Dr Tim Cotton, a Winchester GP and vice clinical chairman of the West Hampshire Care Commissioning Group.

A GP for 25 years, he said: “I used to think decision about people’s health was (solely) my job and that I had to take responsibility for everybody’s health.

"But if it was a partnership and I could empower them to take responsibility for their own health you will get better outcomes and people will feel better about themselves.

"We should be taking steps before they get ill to keep them well.”

He added: “The answer is not always more beds, more doctors, more nurses but to think differently about the needs of people and how to support them more effectively to access the care they need.”

Steps are being taken to tackle the crucial fault line between hospitals and social care which is seeing delayed discharges, or bed blocking, costing the NHS billions of pounds a year.

Mr Samuel said he personally favoured a radical plan to increase efficiency. “I think funding for the health sector should be routed through local government. It is not a view shared by many colleagues.

Mr Brine said he had expected around 100 people but the threat of wintry weather saw around 50 in the audience in Ashburton Hall.