A WAR of words has erupted between two councils over one's decision to seek a judicial review on the decision to move services from Heatherwood Hospital.

The Royal Borough has hit back at stinging criticism from Bracknell Forest Council, which described the former's legal challenge as a "sad and destructive threat to essential health service reforms".

The council went to the High Court last week to seek a judicial review of the former Berkshire Primary Care Trust's decision to move Heatherwood's minor injuries unit from the Ascot hospital to the Bracknell Clinic in Brants Bridge, shut its rehabilitation unit and permanently close the midwife-led birthing unit - decisions made in March following the Shaping the Future consultation.

Cllr Dale Birch, executive member for health at Bracknell Forest Coun-cil, said: "This is a sad and destructive threat to essential health service reforms planned for the whole of east Berkshire.

"We are all stunned at the Royal Borough's efforts to preserve old, inefficient and costly facilities at Heather-wood. Their actions could cost their taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds and deny large communities the high-quality health services they are entitled to.

"Money for patient care will now have to go on paying lawyers' fees, and that can't be right. We will do everything possible to ensure that much-needed health improvements for the whole of east Berkshire are not blocked by the Royal Borough." But Cllr Sayonara Luxton, chairwoman of the Royal Borough's adult services and health overview and scrutiny panel, responded: "Residents come first in our borough and the reason the council is uniting with them to resist the centralisation of health services is because the system at Heatherwood works. We believe an undemocratic decision was taken to cut services that are well used and that local people prize so it's not surprising the Royal Borough is fighting to carry forward our residents' wishes.

"It is very disappointing that Bracknell Forest has chosen to adopt this unhelpful stance but it will not stop us taking the battle forward by using whatever means we can in support of excellent NHS services for our residents in the place they want them." The Royal Borough challenge could also jeopardise vital plans to merge Heatherwood and Wexham Park Trust with Frimley Park Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the latter's chief executive Andrew Morris said last week.

Heatherwood and Wexham Park chief executive Philippa Slinger has said the trust would end up going bust if the merger did not go ahead.

The Royal Borough and the NHS put forward their arguments before a High Court judge last Wednesday and a decision on whether a judicial review can be held is expected in six to eight weeks.