Hospitals in Sussex could be put at risk after the Government voted through sweeping new powers for ministers.
A clause in the Care Bill passed this week means Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt can close hospital departments and wards with just 40 days notice for financial reasons instead of over care.
Opposition MPs have warned organisations experiencing tough financial pressures, like East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, could be vulnerable.
The NHS in East Sussex, which included the trust and the county’s clinical commissioning groups, has already been earmarked by health regulator Monitor as an area of financial concern.
External experts are due to be appointed at the end of this month to help the county’s health organisations identify £200 million of savings over the next five years while sustaining existing services.
There has already been anger over the downgrading of the consultant-led maternity unit at Eastbourne District General Hospital and sending pregnant women in need of urgent treatment to the Conquest Hospital in St Leonards instead.
Other changes have included transferring emergency and urgent general and orthopaedic surgery from Eastbourne to St Leonards.
All NHS organisations are required to save a certain amount of their budget every year, but East Sussex also has a history of overspending which needs to be addressed to get the county's health economy back on track.
Labour’s health spokesman, Andy Burnham, said the new law established a “dangerous principle” that decisions about closures would be “financially rather than clinically driven”.
Health minister Dan Poulter insisted the new powers would only be used “in the most exceptional circumstances”, where patients’ lives were at risk or a trust had failed financially.
Liz Walke, from Eastbourne, who heads the Save the DGH Campaign, said: “This clause is quite worrying but the bigger cause for concern is the current position where our local hospital has seen vital services removed because of what appears to be bad management.
“If this clause does something to remove bad management, we would not be totally opposed to it but if services are removed without public consultation this clause is wrong.”
The trust declined to comment, saying the issue was a political matter.