Villagers and their MP took NHS bosses to task last night over proposed changes to Mid Sussex casualty services.

The health chiefs' most controversial proposal is to downgrade the accident and emergency unit at the Princess Royal Hospital, Haywards Heath, and send patients to Brighton instead.

Lewes MP Norman Baker spoke after villagers at Newick voiced their concern over the plan - known as framework three - at a meeting last night.

Mr Baker told the health service managers at the village hall: "Every single telephone call and letter I have received from people in my constituency has been hostile to framework three.

"If it was to go ahead in spite of the overwhelming objections of the public at large, that would undermine the discussions that have gone on. They want you to go back and have a look at it again."

Despite the fierce opposition voiced at public meetings and two petitions signed by 54,000 people, the health managers said more people would benefit from being taken to Brighton.

They say despite longer ambulance journeys patients would be more likely to survive because they would receive more specialised surgery.

Burgess Hill solicitor Tom Fitzpatrick, a member of the Princess Royal Action campaign, told the managers: "We don't like the idea of the A&E in Brighton on a Saturday night."

One woman, who did not give her name, spoke in favour of framework three. Another, who also did not give her name, spoke of the superb facilities at the Princess Royal and said: "It's not the same in Brighton. What I see is an appalling and frightening place where people sit in the corridor."

Other villagers said it would be more difficult to support elderly people with friends and relatives if they were taken to hospital in Brighton.

Health chiefs hope a home nursing programme can keep many people at home after operations. And the panel said improvements would be made to the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

Roger Greene, chief executive of Mid Sussex NHS Trust, said: "The Brighton of the future that we are planning in terms of capital and buildings is not the Brighton of the present."

Several residents of Newick, which has a population of about 2,000, spoke of their concerns about sending patients to Brighton.

Stella Hill said: "I am dead against them doing that. It is absolutely ludicrous."

Sidney Miles, 82, said: "I have thought about this carefully and I am horrified at the thought of being driven down to Brighton if I have had an accident and all the traffic I would have to get through to get there.

"It is ridiculous to send people to an old, out-of-date hospital when we have a nearly brand new hospital here."