TONY Blair has urged people in Buckinghamshire to fight any proposals to close A&E services at Wycombe Hospital every step of the way.

The Prime Minister praised the efforts of the South Bucks Star in raising the issue in our Don't Do It Hewitt campaign when he met Buckinghamshire's Labour leader Julia Wassell yesterday evening at Downing Street.

Cllr Wassell took a list of almost 3,000 reader names who have backed the campaign run in the Star and our sister papers Midweek and the Bucks Free Press and told Mr Blair about the fight to safeguard A&E services.

Cllr Wassell said: "He said he was in touch with Buckinghamshire issues because he lives here some of the time at Chequers.

"I told him that A&E was a major issue for people here and he was concerned.

"He said it was important that when people have concerns about Government decisions they pull their finger out. He said it was up to us to intervene at every point."

The Don't Do It Hewitt campaign was launched after Buckinghamshire health officials warned more changes could be forced upon them by the Government.

We asked readers to fill out forms urging Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt not to axe Wycombe's A&E department.

The hospital in Queen Alexandra Road has already lost trauma surgery to Stoke Mandeville Hospital near Aylesbury, and women's and children's services are due to move in the New Year.

There are no official plans to close A&E, but hospital bosses say further cuts could be forced upon them by the Government and they are unable to guarantee the department's future at Wycombe.

Cllr Wassell said she now intends to get an appointment with the chief executive of the South Central Strategic Health Authority - which oversees NHS services in Buckinghamshire - to raise the issue.

She said: "I want it to be seen that we are doing all we can.

"It would be better if we can knock it on the head now."

Cllr Wassell was invited to Downing Street along with other Labour leaders from around the country for an evening reception.

Mr Blair shook hands with all his guests, but stopped and had a long chat with Cllr Wassell as she was on the end of the line.

She said: "We had a good long chat and I had my one-to-one. I saw him again a bit later and he said give my regards to the people of Buckinghamshire."

Department of Health spokesman Stuart McFadyen said: "To claim that the Government is forcing changes upon the NHS is wrong. Changes to NHS services are led locally and only take place following full public consultation with the local community."