SOUTH Bucks' community hospitals, such as Marlow Cottage Hospital, will not be axed in the immediate future and their services could actually be expanded, say bosses.

Buckinghamshire Primary Care Trust's chief executive Janet Fitzgerald made the pledge after revealing the trust had missed its target to reduce its total debt to £15.2million by this month.

The PCT is currently £17.7million in the red and now has just a year to break even. But bosses say cutting community hospitals is not part of its plan to make substantial savings.

Instead, they are looking at moving more services from hospitals such as Wycombe to community hospitals like Marlow and Chalfont & Gerrards Cross.

The PCT says not every patient may need to go into a main hospital for treatment and providing services at more nearby locations could prove more cost-efficient.

It has stopped short of guaranteeing the future of community hospitals for years to come but says there are no current plans to close them.

The news comes off the back of mounting concerns for community hospitals because of the PCT's debt problems.

Richard Burton, spokes-man for the PCT, said: "We will carry on running the services at community hospitals but we may tweak the services to make them more efficient."

Doctors surgeries could also be given more responsibilities under proposals being considered.

Mr Burton added: "We are keeping our options open, but what we are looking at is bringing more services to a community setting - diagnosis, community scan-ning, a hub of potential services."

A review is still due to take place into Marlow Cottage Hospital in Victoria Road, and Chalfont & Gerrards Cross Hospital, in Chalfont St Peter, this year.

Mr Burton said the review will focus on managing resources at the sites - not whether they could be closed.

The results of a consultation regarding the reduction of community and district nurses is yet to be made public. Last year, the PCT proposed to cut around 50 posts but no decision has yet been made. Nurses for the entire Wycombe district are based at Marlow.

Despite missing its deficit target, the PCT said it still managed to save £16.4 million in the last year, which kept its total deficit down.