Almost 1,700 people have signed an open letter to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt to protest against possible cuts to NHS services.

The Argus has drafted a letter raising concerns about the impact the loss of vital departments would have on hospitals across Sussex. It is calling for them to be protected.

The letter also raises concerns about staff being made redundant and treatments being delayed as managers battle to claw back millions of pounds of debt.

It warns that lives will be put at risk if people have to travel further for accident and emergency or maternity treatment.

With thousands of new homes planned for the county, opponents of the changes believe the remaining hospital services would not be able to cope with demand.

Letters have been coming in from all over the county from both patients and NHS workers.

One person to raise concerns about the impact of cuts is Sally Johnson from Brighton.

When she gave birth to her first son at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, she was shocked at the way the midwives were run off their feet.

The artist and part-time lecturer at the University of Brighton came in early to the hospital in 2002 because she was suffering from pre-eclampsia.

She said: "I ended up having a caesarean and everything was fine but it was very clear that the staff were terrifically stressed. People were being hauled in to cover shifts and there were not enough staff to keep a ward open so we had to be moved to another one.

"The staff were great but they were really struggling at times."

Ms Johnson, 43, and her partner Mark Scholfield, 44, live in Brighton and have two children: Francis, four, and two- year-old Jimmy. Jimmy was born on Christmas Eve at the hospital and Ms Johnson said although there were staff shortages because of Christmas, the treatment she received was good.

She said: "My worry is that I don't think people are going to be able to cope with the demand if maternity services close elsewhere.

"They are already exceptionally busy and there have been problems with staff shortages. I also don't think they have the physical space to take on more mothers."

People can sign copies of the letter, which is reprinted below. It can also be signed online at All the letters collected will be forwarded to the Department of Health to make sure Ms Hewitt gets the message.

To sign the letter to Patricia Hewitt, click here