THE massive scale of cuts facing Wigan’s health services was laid bare today.
After months of “forensic analysis,” local NHS chiefs have launched a draft five-year plan to save an eye-watering £50m from the annual £423m budget.
And shocked councillors who heard a presentation of the draft Strategic Plan presentation from Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group (WBCCG) – the statutory body which commission health services in Wigan – were bluntly warned this week: “Doing nothing simply isn’t an option.”
The ultimatum has been forced on Wigan by Government spending restrictions. But is also being fuelled by rapidly increasing needs from an ageing population which has grown up with an historically unhealthy lifestyle.
Members of the council’s Health and Social Scrutiny Committee were told that Wigan now has above-average problems with smoking related illness, alcohol abuse and obesity.
Approaching a quarter of the borough’s adult population of 320,000 people have long-term managed illnesses and a third of them are considered to be a part the most deprived 20 per cent in the country. And emergency hospital admissions for mental health problems, depression and dementia are all “higher than they should be.”
The WBCCG aims to accomplish most of the savings between 2014 and 2019 by devolving more and more patient treatment away from Wigan’s acute hospital services to GP practices.
Chief officer Trish Anderson also said it will target support at those patients with a higher dependency on health services to improve the management of the individual’s health condition and “contain” their use of expensive services.
The CCG is also determined to address the wider reasons for poor health – including working with the council to adopt a Life Course approach – to remove the need for treatment in the first place.
In future Wigan’s hospitals, although still providing acute medicine, general surgery and trauma care, will otherwise concentrate on patients who cannot be satisfactorily seen in another setting.
This will allow the acute sector’s £221m a year budget to be reduced by “up to 40 per cent.”
Specialised services will be focused at centre of excellence within Greater Manchester and the “North West footprint” reducing variety but “improving quality and safety.”
Services within the community will be focused around groups of GP practices, providing integrated health and social car for the patient.”
Ms Anderson told councillors: “Maintaining the status quo is not an option.
“Only by working together will we meet the needs of the population of our borough and the £50m funding challenge of the coming years.
“The Wigan health economy is facing an unprecedented challenge and it is a paramount that we maintain our focus on improving quality and ensure the future sustainability of our system.”
Wigan Central’s Coun George Davies - who worked in the NHS for more than 35 years - told the CCG boss that all authorities needed to concentrate on clamping down on youth drinking to prevent such habits stoking up health problems for the future.
He called for a blanket ban on all drinking in public opens spaces borough-wide.
Cabinet member Coun Susan Loudon was keen to see an expansion of the “buddies” scheme with volunteers giving the borough’s 34,000 full-time carers a respite break by taking the cared-for to “see the rugby, go fishing or just the simple pleasure of going shopping for a few hours.”
She added: “We need to reach the people who do the little things that are so important to the lives of so many in the borough and help to keep them well and encourage more to become involved.”