THE number of beds at Worcestershire's community hospitals are facing a shock 44 per cent cut.

Health chiefs have revealed the deeply controversial move as part of a new five-year blueprint to plug a £250 million funding 'gap'.

There are currently 324 beds at the five small sites, which are designed to keep people away from A&E at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and the Alex.

But bosses say it could be reduced to just 182, under a dramatic reduction not seen since the mini-hospitals at Malvern, Pershore, Tenbury, Evesham and Bromsgrove became a staple of the county's NHS system.

The shrinkage is part of the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), an 83-page dossier produced under serious pressure from the Government and NHS England to transform healthcare.

Bosses want to put more money into at-home care, funding a wave of nurses and other health professionals to go into people's own homes to keep the sick out of hospital.

The Worcester News can also reveal how the number of beds at Worcestershire's three main hospitals are set to fall slightly, from 743 to 740.

Bosses want to increase capacity at Worcestershire Royal, something first revealed by this newspaper last year, but part compensate it by taking away beds from other sites in Redditch and Kidderminster.

It means the total number of beds, including the three main sites and five community hospitals will fall by 145, from 1,067 to 922.

Peter Pinfield, from the watchdog Healthwatch, said: "For this to work we've got to put a lot of resources into people going into the community, something we've not done as a nation until now.

"We'd all like to be cared for at home, we agree with the principle of it, but doing it is a big ask.

"We are concerned because this needs national support, it can't be done without extra resources from the Government - the danger is that we could see a reduction in services."

Sarah Dugan, who is leading the STP proposals, said: "Overall the services we provide for people in Worcestershire are good - but we do face significant challenges now and into the future.

"It is important we address these together, as a health and care system with the support of local people.

"We are clear that we will have to make some difficult decisions about how we provide care, treatment and support, but with the help of patients and communities we also think we can do lots of things better."

The entire strategy is now out for consultation - to see the full plan and the raft of events lined up to discuss it go HERE.