FRESH fears have been raised about plans to 'downgrade' Inverclyde Royal and make it equivalent to the Vale of Leven Hospital.

Health board bosses have set out a long-term vision for health services and the Tele revealed earlier this year how they want to establish a tier system for hospitals.

Under their controversial plans IRH would be in a tier below Paisley's Royal Alexandra and by 2030 it would be a 'local hospital' equivalent to the Vale of Leven across the water.

Now health campaigners including Labour's general election candidate Martin McCluskey are calling on bosses to meet with the public and explain the plan.

Mr McCluskey said: "The health board have a model which in the coming years will have Inverclyde Royal on a lower tier than hospitals in Paisley and Glasgow.

"I think it raises many questions about the downgrading of the hospital.

"The health board has to come clean with the public over their plans for Inverclyde Royal."

Concerns about the future of the hospital have been sparked by a major service review called Moving Forward Together.

It sets out a complete restructure of the way health services are delivered in future.

This shift follows a decision to stop treating patients with the most serious injuries at the IRH A&E.

Instead ambulances are being sent up the M8 to trauma units at the RAH and under-pressure Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

The award-winning physical rehabilitation unit at Inverclyde Royal is also under review and has merged with the stroke ward because of a shortage of doctors.

Election hopeful Mr McCluskey recently obtained a report which showed that the future of the local Intensive Treatment Unit, which looks after patients following operations, is still under review.

He said: "The health board needs to be clear about all the changes they are planning to NHS services in Inverclyde.

"We were told in March that there were 'no specific service changes' being proposed but these new reports would suggest otherwise.

"We need to build a health service capable of coping in the future, but that has to start with openness and transparency.

"On the doorstep people are raising real concerns about what we have here.

"The leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon has made the NHS a general election issue so I think they need to answer questions locally."

Fellow health campaigner and Lib Dem councillor Ciano Rebecchi, who led the successful 2004 fight to save A&E at IRH, says he is concerned by what is happening behind the scenes. He told the Tele: "We need to get public meetings in the town hall with people able to come along and ask questions.

"The health board needs to be upfront with people.

"People come from miles away to use the physical rehabilitation unit."

Bosses at NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde have defended the Moving Forward Together strategy, saying their aim is to 'deliver the majority of care as near to local communities as possible'.

A spokeswoman for the health board told the Telegraph: "It is widely recognised that specialist care is better delivered and delivers better outcomes for patients in a number of smaller sites.

"This includes the proposal for a major trauma network that would see those patients who need the most complex, highly specialised care from across the West of Scotland, taken to a new major trauma centre at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

"The reference to a tiered model of care in a recent board paper supports this approach, which will see major trauma cases being taken the centre.

"Inverclyde Royal, as the local emergency hospital, will continue to receive emergencies.

"This new model will also mean that theatre time will be freed up at IRH, allowing it to become a centre of excellence with continued access to specialist care and an increase in planned operations such as knee replacements.

"We hope that nearly 360 more of these operations can be carried out there each year."

The board added that it plans to 'continue to engage with local stakeholders and communities' as the plans develop.