THE head of Wigan’s patients’ watchdog says the Government must resolve the uncertain future of the borough’s hospitals.
Healthwatch Wigan chairman Sir Ian McCartney said a downgrading of Wigan’s A&E services would create serious problems as there are not enough alternative out-of-hours options for patients.
The former Makerfield MP’s comments came after research published by Healthwatch showed that 18 per cent of people nationally had admitting visiting A&E for non-emergencies.
However, the national watchdog refused to pin the blame on service users for making unnecessary trips to the hospital and called for better alternatives, a view echoed by Sir Ian.
He said: “Our biggest worry is the future of Wigan’s A&E services. If the hospital is downgraded we will have serious problems with people who need out-of-hours services and won’t be able to get community services right away.
“We all want to invest in other services and make them better, but we need some certainty on the future of the A&E facilities in Wigan.
“At the moment Wigan is in limbo, and that means the trust will end up losing good doctors rather than keeping them.
“You cannot just blame people for turning up at hospitals, you have got to make sure they’ve got real alternatives, and we need to develop out-of-hours services making sure trusts and doctors are involved in managing them.”
The national figures, which are thought to be similar to the situation in Wigan, shows 25 per cent of survey respondents would also use A&E again in the future if they could not see a GP, with one in three saying they would turn up at hospital outside of surgery opening hours.
Healthwatch said around a third of survey respondents did not know where their nearest NHS walk-in centre was or what services were provided there, while only 20 per cent of those asked said they had used the phone treatment line NHS 111 or its predecessor NHS Direct.
The watchdog says the health service needs to become more focused on consumers’ needs and develop new services to ensure people stay out of hospital.
Healthwatch England chair Anna Bradley said: “A&E has become NHS Express. The problem is it was never designed to be a catch-all service and nor should it be allowed to become one.
“Until the health and care sector offers a more consumer-friendly experience things are unlikely to improve.”
Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust has introduced the Choose Well campaign to raise awareness of pharmacies and walk-in centres, while working to ensure long-term conditions can be managed at home.