Watch Sarah Byrd's report for ITV News Anglia above
Accident and Emergency and maternity services will remain at two Bedfordshire hospital sites, despite merger plans, bosses have insisted.
Under the proposals, Bedford Hospital and Luton and Dunstable University Hospital would form a single NHS Foundation Trust with a joint management team.
Bedford's chief executive, Stephen Conroy, said the plans would secure the future of his sites and ensure key services including A&E, maternity and paediatrics remained at both hospitals.
If the proposals are approved by NHS Improvement and NHS England, the hospitals hope to have a joint board in place by April 2018. A full business case will be submitted to NHS chiefs in December 2017.
Both hospitals would retain their individual names under the umbrella of a new joint trust.
Bosses insist the move is a "logical next step in collaborative working", with the two hospitals already working closely on neonatal intensive care, stroke services and vascular surgery.