Concerns that locals were not going to be consulted in the Gunnedah hospital upgrade project have been dispelled by Hunter New England Health (HNEH).
Gunnedah Shire Council general manager Eric Groth publicly expressed his concerns in a media statement on Friday afternoon, saying HNEH was trying to "walk back the scope of the project".
But rural and regional health services executive director Susan Heyman said planning was under way and key parties would be consulted in due course.
"We're in the early stages of clinical planning and we expect to complete that planning by mid-2020," Ms Heyman said.
"We talk to clinicians and staff first - they're the ones who've been working in this area a long time - and the second part is consulting communities and consumers, including current patients, and they are equally important.
"This is such a positive thing for the Gunnedah community, and it's really important we stay communicating and connected with the community."
Ms Heyman said a coming meeting with HNEH and Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson would include talks on "analysis of population growth and ageing, patterns of disease, social determinants, and the impact of new and emerging technologies".
She said a meeting with community members and groups such as PRAMS would be held in the days after.
Mr Groth had said in his statement the shire "would not accept being treated like a colonial outpost".
"We want genuine action on healthcare and we need our families to be treated in Gunnedah, not sent on a magic carpet ride to Tamworth every time they get sick," he said.
"We will be looking to [Mr Anderson] to hold the bureaucracy to account and ensure the people of Gunnedah get a new hospital with the services they deserve."
He told the NVI yesterday he had spoken to Mr Anderson for updates and this had "given us some comfort that things are moving ahead the way Kevin has indicated to the community they will".
"I trust that Kevin will work very hard to deliver what he's committed," Mr Groth said.
Mr Anderson said he was "totally committed" to the Gunnedah hospital project.
"I'm confident that the meetings we're going to have in a couple of weeks will outline the plans that HNEH have for Gunnedah," he said.
"The $53 million is locked in, and I'll be making sure every dollar and every cent goes towards that project."