WIGAN borough’s health watchdog say NHS chiefs have spent £3m in their bid to ‘downgrade A&E services’.
Following a freedom of information request made to NHS England by Healthwatch Wigan, it was revealed that the total cost of the Healthier Together programme in Greater Manchester to date is £3m and they say the cost is still rising.
The group (Healthwatch) claims the money spent so far could have paid for 90 new nurses, 20 A&E doctors or 9,000 bed days at Wigan Infirmary.
Healthier Together is a programme set up to review health and social care across all of Greater Manchester and is part of a wider public service reform, which says it seeks to improve outcomes for all residents by improving the quality of treatment in and out of hospital.
The news comes only days after NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh announced plans to introduce a new two-tier system in hospitals which would see 70 A&E departments downgraded, which has led to widespread concerns for the future of services in Wigan. Last year it was announced that Wigan’s A&E would become a support hospital to three major trauma centre hospitals elsewhere in the county, prompting new fears following Sir Bruce’s report.
So far, the figures from the FOI request have revealed that £751,000 has been spent on staff employed by the NHS to work on the project.
It also revealed that £1.3m has been spent on third-party organisations, although the NHS would not reveal who or what that money was used for.
There was also a total of £409,000 for ‘other costs’ but again, the NHS would not clarify in the request what the costs entailed.
A further £286,000 has been spent on contract staff not employed by the NHS.
Sir Ian McCartney, the chair of Healthwatch Wigan said: “The bottom line is that there is no bottom line – they have been given a huge blank cheque to cut back local emergency services.
“We have been flabbergasted for some time over the lack of real information about the secretive way the NHS ‘top brass’ has gone about preparing the biggest upheaval in local services since the setting up the NHS at Trafford Hospital in 1948.
The Healthier Together programme is accountable to Greater Manchester’s twelve Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), including Wigan Borough CCG.
Healthwatch say they now want greater transparency and accountability from Healthier Together.
Sir Ian believes that the rumour mill has been working overtime while trusts like Wigan have been left ‘swinging in the wind’ with nurses, doctors, patients and carers becoming increasingly worried.
Sir Ian, the former Labour MP for Makerfield, added: “What a shambolic crisis. Top brass wasting our local scarce NHS brass – it’s a crime against the people in Wigan borough and the wider Greater Manchester community.”
Healthier Together have pledged to respond to Sir Ian’s claims in tomorrow’s Wigan Evening Post.