Health chiefs blasted by fierce opposition over changes to Mid Sussex casualty services are inviting people to suggest something better.

West Sussex's head of health services has challenged people to suggest alternatives to proposals to downgrade the accident and emergency unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath.

More than 54,000 people signed petition forms objecting to an NHS group's suggestion that seriously ill or injured people should go to Brighton instead of Haywards Heath.

Now members of the Central Sussex Partnership Programme Board are preparing to let people get involved in planning the changes via advisory panels and more public meetings.

And there has been the first hint that they might soften in their approach to the most fiercely challenged ideas if someone can convince them of something better.

New West Sussex Health Authority chief executive Candy Morris said: "The health authority's fundamental principle is that wherever possible, clinical teams should work in a way which optimises local access.

"It's quite clear that there is more listening to do so that we can work together to get the best balance possible."

More than 17,000 people signed the Argus Save Our A&E petition and 37,000 signed another run by the Princess Royal Action Group.

Stuart Welling, chief executive of Brighton Health Care NHS Trust said "People will be able to consider the issues in greater depth.

"The public often comes up with innovative and imaginative solutions to service issues, viewed from the patient's perspective. That means services will be geared towards what people want and need."

Dr Roger Greene, chief executive of Mid Sussex NHS Trust, which runs the Princess Royal, said: "The board would not have agreed to engage the public more closely unless they were genuinely prepared to listen to what was being said and for plans to be influenced accordingly."

Events where health professionals and the public can debate the discussion so far and make proposals will be held next month and in December.

Advisory panels of local people will also be set up to advise the board when plans are being developed.

Some people accept there might have to be some swapping of services between Brighton and Haywards Heath but the idea of the casualty downgrade has provoked all-out opposition.

The equivalent of one in three people served by the hospital's catchment area signed the petitions.