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HEALTHCARE in south Essex will take priority for Labour in its seven week election campaign...as NHS bosses press on with a radical shake-up.

The Mid and South Essex Success Regime wants to merge and restructure Southend, Basildon and Broomfield Hospital, in Chelmsford.

Under the plans, Basildon is set to have a specialist emergency centre - taking the most serious blue light cases across the area. Southend and Broomfield will be downgraded, but will still have 24-hour walk-in services for less serious cases.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement of a general election in June has sparked renewed calls for the overhaul to be scrapped, over fears of patients facing long ambulance journeys up the A127 and A130.

Joe Cooke, from the Castle Point Labour Party, is a governor at Southend Hospital. He said: “Now we are presented with the chance to look at the whole thing, the possibility of a Labour government in charge is tremendous.

“We thought we’d have to wait for three years seeing the healthcare service we cherish crumble away. Now we don’t.”

The Southend Lib Dems have raised “deep concerns” about the changes amid struggling hospital finances - with the party vowing to increase taxes to fund an improved NHS. In a statement, the group said: “We are concerned that the ambulance service, which is already stressed in Essex, will not be expanded sufficiently to cope with the longer journeys.”

Dave Murray, 53, of Rowenhall, Laindon was treated at Basildon Hospital for a strain of auto-immune disease. He said: “Anyone who works in medicine knows there is this moment called the ‘golden hour.’ Nobody wants to spend that hour stuck in traffic.

“The election is a chance to abolish the Success Regime and sweep out the privateers.”

James Duddridge Tory MP for Rochford and Southend East, has stood by the shake-up. He said: “It’s about getting patients to the right place with the right resources. If I had a heart attack in Southend they would rush me straight to Basildon Hospital because there is a specialist team there.”

Andy Vowles, programme director for the Mid and South Essex Success Regime, said final proposals are on track to go out for public consultation in the autumn. He added: “The election comes at a point when possible proposals for changes to local services are still under discussion and development.

“We would not envisage the election having an impact on our timescale.”