Up to 19 hospitals could be closed to plug a £22 billion NHS funding black hole, according to a press investigation into proposed health reform. 

The in-depth review of 44 regional plans, drawn up by health service leaders to remodel the NHS in England, was carried out by the Johnston Press Investigations Unit, in consultation with professional bodies. 

Their analysis claims proposed changes – which supporters say are necessary for a viable NHS focused on community care – include the closure of up to 19 hospitals, including five major acute hospitals, as well as the loss of up to 2,000 beds in community hospitals. 

NHS England has rejected the analysis, saying any such closures would have to be based on clear evidence that they deliver better care for patients and would be subject to robust scrutiny by NHS England. 

The Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) are the product of a year of consultations between hundreds of NHS organisations and local authorities. They have far-reaching implications for the future of the NHS in England and are due to be finalised in April 2017. 

While the British Medical Association says it is in favour of the STP process as an opportunity for collaboration and longer-term planning, it is concerned that practising GPs are not as involved as they should be. A BMA survey published in November found that half of London’s doctors hadn’t heard of the STPs. This week, it has also warned that modernising and securing the future of NHS England would need at least £9.5 billion of funding, up front. 

Madeleine Pinschof, a senior medical negligence solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Another week, another set of headlines revealing the extent to which our healthcare service appears to be in jeopardy. 

“The STP process aims to shape the NHS’ future, yet if it is excluding the very people that know what is going, there is a risk that it is not truly representative. If the process is to be a success, it is vital that medical staff on the frontline are actively involved in it and that their voices are heard. 

“A flurry of news stories in recent weeks has made it clear that many services are now at risk of financial collapse. The BMA – an apolitical professional organisation representing doctors and medical students – has said billions of pounds’ worth of funding is needed. The government must heed its advice.”