A series of preliminary public consultation meetings about the future of various aspects of Hinchingbrooke Hospital services began last week and closes tonight (Wednesday). We look on this page at what might happen to A&E, the future of general surgery (page 10) and the prospects for maternity services (page 11). Formal consultation will take place in the new year, the NHS says. THE audience at a tense consultation meeting about Hinchingbrooke Hospital on Monday were unconvinced that GPs would be able to deal with accident and emergency work. Colin Borland, consultant physician at the hospital, told the meeting about the future of A&E in Huntingdonshire saying many minor injuries could be treated by GPs. He told the packed meeting at Buckden Millennium Centre that only a tiny fraction of patients received the trauma care seen on television programmes such as Casualty. Two thirds of people went to A&E with minor injuries and 25 per cent could be treated by general practitioners based at the hospital. However, retired GP Derek Cracknell, who worked at Priory Fields in Huntingdon, said from the floor that the 25 per cent had not succeeded in getting services from their GP and that was why they had gone to hospital. He said: "A lot of them could be treated by a GP if that service were available, but the GP service has been reduced in the past 10 years in terms of time, and it is now provided by groups not individual GPs." He questioned whether GPs could provide "the service the population believes it deserves and needs". Another member of the audience, Carol Dugan, asked: "Could GP surgeries cope?" She added: "Surgeries have reduced hours. People expect to go to their nearest hospital and to have all the services they need there." Boon Lim, medical director and consultant obstetrician at the hospital, stressed: "It is not true that we are closing A&E." He said the department had consistently outperformed on national targets. However, his statement that the hospital served 160,000 and was the smallest in the region was challenged by people in the audience who said the geography of the region and major trunk roads meant it treated people from far and wide. Ratan Das, an A&E consultant at the hospital, who has worked there for 17 years, said: "I have a problem with that figure. You have to consider the geographical base of the hospital, not just the population." He added that only "a minute fraction" of head injuries went to Addenbrooke's. Much of the meeting was taken up with funding and the hospital's deficit, projected to be nearly \u00A330million by March. Ieuan Evans, from Buckden, asked: "What logic is there in having Addenbrooke's run on a different regime to Hinchingbrooke? Does it meet with common sense? Why should Addenbrooke's be classed as a different hospital to Hinchingbrooke with a different financial status? Chris Town, acting chief executive for Cambridgeshire Primary Care Trust, did not see it as his role to explain or defend the principles behind foundation hospitals. As a foundation hospital, Addenbrooke's is funded differently from Hinchingbrooke. If Hinchingbrooke had been a foundation hospital it would not have had to pay the Government \u00A319million this year - to put back into the NHS pot. This includes \u00A36.5million it paid in error which the Department of Health refused to give back. Huntingdonshire District Councillor Mike Simpson said: "It seems the only way to balance the books is to reduce the service." Trish Harewood from Godmanchester said: "Hinchingbrooke has been praised for its efficiency and the careful way it has looked after its money - until the building of the new treatment centre. The hospital has done its best to do what the Government wants and it is now being punished for it." INFORMATION: The fourth and final consultation meeting on Hinchingbrooke, dealing with cancer services, takes place tonight (Wednesday) at 7pm at Slepe Hall, St Ives.