LEADERS of the British Medical Association have warned that the NHS's controversial plans to transform its services could be used as a ploy to cover up cuts.

Last week the Chronicle broke the news that more than £34m could be cut from the NHS's workforce budget in Berkshire West, which includes Reading, and neighbouring counties.

The workforce is just one of several areas the NHS plans to save money and the plans could also see services merged together and small doctors' surgeries closed down.

Medical leaders and council bosses have condemned the report, and today the British Medical Association added to the fears, warning that the proposed changes could be used as a cover for the cuts.

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair said: “Improving patient care must be the number one priority for these plans. Given the scale of the savings required in each area, there is a real risk that these transformation plans will be used as a cover for delivering cuts, starving services of resource and patients of vital care.

“It is extremely concerning that the majority of doctors have not been consulted on the plans, particularly as ministers have been so keen to insist that all stakeholders would be involved.

“STPs have the potential to generate more collaboration and the longer-term planning of services based on local need but it is crucial that any plans about the future of the NHS must be drawn up in an open and transparent way, and have the support and involvement of clinicians, patients and the public from the outset. At this stage nobody can be confident that this has happened.”

The BMA has called on the NHS to publish the plans in full to the public and to launch an open consultation.

The secrecy of the plans was condemned by political and medical experts in Reading, who said the NHS should not have tried to hide the proposals.

Reading Borough Council took a stand against the NHS by publishing their damning report, despite being asked not to do so.

Cllr Jo Lovelock, leader of the authority, added: "It is absolutely essential that draft proposals of this magnitude are brought into the open, publicly discussed and given proper consideration, which is why we have taken the decision to publish the plans today, and give local people and patients the opportunity to see the NHS proposals and comment.

"The document itself contains a claim that the NHS has been working with Local Government on these proposals, but from Reading’s perspective that is certainly not true."