One in six accident and emergency departments in England could be shut or downgraded in the next four years, according to new analysis.
Twenty-four A&E departments are on a list drawn up by researchers at the Health Service Journal (HSJ), which are deemed most likely to face downgrade or closure.
The report comes weeks after the Red Cross warned that the health service was in the grips of a “humanitarian crisis”, with vulnerable elderly patients stranded in desperately needed beds in A&Es due to a lack of social care.
The HSJ analysis said about 15 per cent of emergency departments could be "closed or downgraded" in the next four years.
NHS officials said some changes to A&Es had been planned and statistics showed treatment could be improved with "concentration" of specialist services.
However the health service said it does not expect significant changes to A&Es in the years ahead.
Dr Chris Moulton, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, warned the NHS does not have enough capacity for a growing and ageing population.
"Any A&E closures must be very carefully considered for patient safety, patient convenience and the effects on neighbouring departments that would have to absorb the extra patient attendances," he said.
The NHS said the range of services available to patients is expected to expand as the number of people seeking urgent care increases over the coming years.
A spokesman said: "Within that overall expansion, it may be possible to improve care and save lives with some concentration of specialist urgent services.
"This approach has increased the chances of surviving a major trauma in this country by 50 per cent, and only today the Stroke Association have called for more concentration of stroke units to improve outcomes."
"However we do not expect significant numbers of A&E changes in the years ahead."
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