Health bosses have come under fire for holding a crucial meeting about the future of St Helier Hospital during the school holidays when few people can attend.

St George’s Hospital in Tooting wants to merge with St Helier as part of a shake-up of hospital services in south London.

But the proposed merger has raised fears among politicians and GPs over the long-term future of St Helier's maternity ward, neonatal unit, renal unit, and accident and emergency department.

It has been predicted the merger could become a "hostile takeover" that saw St Helier's assets stripped as it battled a multi-million pound defecit.

St George's also needs to save £55 million during 2011-12.

To try and ease fears, St George's Healthcare NHS Trust is holding a meeting on Thursday, August 18, to allow residents to put their views to senior managers.

But organisers have been criticised for not delaying the meeting, for which 600 people have been formally invited, until September.

Councillor Ruth Dombey, Sutton Council’s deputy leader, said: “The timing of this meeting is highly unsatisfactory and could lead to accusations that it’s deliberately being held when most people are away on holiday.

“We already think the merger plan is being rushed through and the timing of this meeting just underlines these concerns.”

The hospitals have said the meeting is one of many that is taking place, and has to be done to allow reasonable time for the hospital to take suggestions ahead of submitting its formal merger bid in mid September.

Calls from Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake and the care minister, Sutton and Cheam MP Paul Burstow,GPs and the council to the Department of Health to delay the process have been rejected.

St Helier must merge with another hospital because all health trusts must attain Foundation Trust status by a government deadline of 2014 and it has been ruled the hospital is not suitable to go it alone.

But only St George’s, has shown an interest in forming a new health trust with St Helier, and the deadline for more ‘expressions of interest’ has now passed.

A spokesman for St George's Hospital Trust said: "In preparing its formal bid St George’s Healthcare is working to a timetable set by the transaction board. "We are determined that any bid that we put forward is informed by the views of local stakeholders and are therefore organising two `listening events` to take place in mid-August and early September.

"A wide group of stakeholders has been invited to attend the first of these meetings on Thursday August 18th including local MPs, councillors from across southwest London, GPs, local involvement networks and patient groups and we have been encouraged by the response we have received so far.

"However, these meetings are only part of a wider engagement plan. Since being invited to formally submit our bid in July, senior clinical and management staff from St George’s Healthcare have held meetings with clinicians, MPs, councillors, GPs and patient groups to discuss our bid and we will continue to do so throughout the process.

"In December 2010, the board of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust announced that the trust was not able to achieve foundation trust status in its present form, and would therefore need to explore alternative options.

"A special board was set up, which in June announced the names of the organisations that had formally shown an interest in merging with Epsom, Sutton and St Helier hospitals.

"After expressing an interest in merging with St Helier Hospital in May 2011, St George’s Healthcare was invited to bid in July 2011. The process and timelines are set by a transaction board, who are operating under guidelines outlined in NHS London’s ‘Approach to transactions’.

"St George’s Healthcare has recorded a financial surplus in each of the last four years and this year will clear its historic debt. "The financial challenges faced by trust going forward are being met by a planned efficiency programme."