HOSPITALS have become one of the key battlegrounds over which next month's election will be fought.
The opening salvo was fired by Labour yesterday as it accused political rivals Plaid of "scaremongering" by claiming hospitals would be shut down.
But Labour pledged to safeguard the future of Llandudno Hospital, which is set to lose some of its services to the nearby district general hospital.
Plaid hit back by challenging the ruling party to confirm the fate of all Welsh hospitals after the May elections.
The political spat has blown up over the current plans to reconfigure hospitals across the country.
Controversially, some hospitals will be closed and others will lose services as the NHS is completely redesigned to respond to the demands of future patients.
The fate of some hospitals has yet to be decided as plans and public consultations have been put on hold until after the National Assembly elections.
There has been widespread criticism of the plans by the public, especially in North, Mid and West Wales, amid fears that services will be withdrawn from the locality permanently.
There has also been a general lack of understanding about what services will be available in the community - Ann Lloyd, chief executive of the NHS, has admitted that the Assembly Government had not explained what community services would replace those lost from hospitals.
Some Plaid Cymru candidates will have their ballot papers marked with the campaign to "save" their local hospital.
Plaid candidate Gareth Jones will appear on the ballot paper in the Labour-held marginal of Aberconwy, North Wales, as "Plaid Cymru - Save Llandudno Hospital". And John Osmond, standing in Preseli Pembrokeshire, will be described as "Plaid Cymru - Save Withybush Hospital".
Labour yesterday accused Plaid of lying to voters by claiming that hospitals were being shut - including one of Wales' newest, the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, near Llantrisant.
Brian Gibbons, Labour's Health Minister, said, "No major hospitals in Wales are on an alleged hit list to close, whether that's Withybush, Bronglais or Llandudno Hospital.
"To claim that the present Government is committed to a programme of hospital closure is absolutely absurd when we are building new hospitals."
Speaking outside the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, Dr Gibbons added, "This is where some of the most outrageous claims have been made in relation to the closure of hospitals and change of use. Plaid Cymru has claimed that Labour is threatening to close the new Royal Glamorgan Hospital. That's a total travesty of the truth."
Dr Gibbons added that Labour was still committed to the Designed for Life principles, which will see some hospital services centralised and more provided in the community.
He also said the future for West Wales, where plans for change have proved most controversial, would involve the current three district general hospitals - Withybush, West Wales General and Bronglais Hospital.
Helen Mary Jones, Plaid Cymru's health spokeswoman, said, of Labour's pledge for Llandudno Hospital, "This is a desperate attempt to hoodwink the people of North Wales into believing that hospitals are not under threat. Despite these empty words they still refuse to rule out that services will be moved from Llandudno or other hospitals closed.
"This announcement is also an insult to the other regions of Wales where hospitals are under threat. Is Labour going to make empty promises in these areas as well to shore up their floundering campaign?
"Our question for Labour is simple - which hospitals are going to remain open or not be downgraded throughout Wales?"