PATIENTS from Worcester could be set all the way to Hereford to access hospital treatment under shock plans to "merge" more health services.

Bosses at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the county's three main hospitals, say they want to explore new ways to make services "sustainable" with counterparts in Herefordshire amid a cash crisis.

Private negotiations are now underway which is expected to result in some services being centralised across both counties. If any services are centralised at Hereford, it would mean a round-trip of more than 50 miles for Worcester patients to access healthcare currently on their doorsteps.

The discussions follow the shock closure of the maternity ward at Redditch's Alexandra Hospital last November, which means pregnant mums from all over the county are now sent to Worcestershire Royal, in Worcester.

Health chiefs have now admitted some crucial aspects of patient care, like stroke services which were centralised in Worcester in 2013, are still "not sustainable".

The talks have alarmed some councillors at Worcestershire County Council, who say too many people in Worcestershire are already fed up of services being centralised.

People in Bromsgrove who need treatment would face an 85 mile-round trip to reach Hereford in the event of some services for both counties going there.

The talks were revealed during a meeting of the health overview and scrutiny committee (HOSC) at County Hall, where trust bosses were grilled on it.

Cllr Graham Vickery, who fiercely criticised the maternity ward changes in Worcestershire, said: "Can you say, in any way how the involvement of Herefordshire will help Worcestershire's trust become more sustainable?"

Simon Trickett, interim chief operating officer for the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in the Wyre Forest, Redditch and Bromsgrove, which holds the purse strings to county health care, said: "The basic principle of it is looking at areas which are hard to staff, where there are issues with population numbers.

"There are particular pathways, like strokes, where there's a single stroke service in each county and it still struggles to be staffed.

"This is about looking at things like that, to say 'if we did anything different, across our geography, would it be sustainable'.

"In a nutshell, that's what it's about but we don't know where it will go yet because that's a piece of work being done at the moment."

Cllr Vickery said: "People in the north of the county are already faced with having to travel to Worcester - are you telling me we'll have patients who will have to travel to Herefordshire?"

Dr Carl Ellson, chief clinical officer for south Worcestershire's CCG, told him he felt it may lead to "more patients" going from Herefordshire into Worcester rather than the other way around.

Chris Tidman, interim chief executive of Worcestershire Acute Trust , said it is impossible to predict the outcome at this stage.

"If there's any way we can support Herefordshire, or vice versa, that's something we should explore," he said.

It comes despite Worcester MP Robin Walker already describing Worcestershire Royal as "full" and concern from councillors about congestion at the site.

The trust has been in financial crisis and ended the 2014/15 financial year with a £25.9 million deficit.

It was placed in special measures by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) back in December and expected to end the 2015/16 year with a record £31 million deficit.