Plans to cut the number of major hospitals in south west London from five to four are only workable if alternative care is provided as hospitals are already stretched “beyond their limits”, according to a think tank.

Bed capacity at one of five south west London hospitals – Kingston, Croydon, St George’s and Epsom and St Helier – are outlined for cuts as part of the NHS’ sustainability and transformation plans (STPs).

According to a report by think tank The King’s Fund, the NHS may in fact need 17,000 more hospital beds to meet the demands in care.

It claims NHS trusts and local authorities will need to ensure “coherent plans to provide alternatives for patients” will need to be set up before cuts are made.

From November 2016: Kingston Hospital insists no plans are in place to reduce emergency care as NHS bosses weigh up cuts across south London

The report said: “Acute hospitals are working at or beyond the limits of current capacity, and bed occupancy rates are well above the recommended level of 85 per cent.

“With delayed transfers of care also increasing – in part because of cuts in social care – many hospitals are having difficulty meeting the demands placed on them with the beds currently available.

“All the more worrying therefore that a recent survey found that intermediate care and beds in the community have been cut in some areas, adding to the pressures on acute hospitals.”

Acute services including A&E, maternity care and stroke services are in danger of being cut at one of the hospitals, with NHS England needing to make £22bn-worth of cuts by 2020.

The STP led Kingston MP James Berry to start a campaign backing Kingston Hospital, claiming cutting services to the “geographically important” facility “would make no sense”.

Surrey Comet:

Kingston Hospital is one of the hospitals lined up for cuts

The hospital has denied that there are any plans to cut services there.

Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund, said: “It is not credible for the Government to argue that it has backed the NHS’s own plan unless it is prepared to support changes to services outlined in STPs.

“A huge effort is needed to make up lost ground by engaging with staff, patients and the public to explain the case for change and the benefits that will be delivered.”