Ailing Wiganers could face far more arduous journeys for treatment under plans to focus a greater number of specialist services at fewer hospitals around Greater Manchester.
Borough patients, many elderly or infirm, could be forced to traverse the city-region’s often gridlocked road system for consultations and surgery after certain medical areas were judged “potentially unsustainable” when spread over several hospitals.
The Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, made up of all of the NHS bodies, councils and partners in the city region, says it has identified eight services as “increasingly under pressure” and in need of review.
Breast services in Wigan could be under threat and benign urology, cardiology, respiratory, musculoskeletal/orthopaedics, paediatric surgery, and vascular may also be affected.
As part of the “improving specialist services programme” - a scheme which has been largely kept under wraps until now - these specialisms could be spread out across the 10 city-region areas.
Proposals to “transform” healthcare services could result in Greater Manchester-wide centres for certain services, and discussions are already under way to move acute and outpatient breast care from Wigan to Bolton.
Health bosses have pledged that no hospitals will close during the process and that A&E and maternity services will be retained across the city-region.
They have also said that the national breast screening programme will not be affected.
A GM Partnership spokeman said: “We have already developed some successful Greater Manchester-wide specialist services: for example around 220 lives have been saved each year since we changed the way major trauma and stroke services were organised.
“We are continuing to work with doctors, nurses and a wide range of health care professionals, including representatives from Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, to advise us, from a clinical perspective, on how these eight specialist services and outcomes for patients can be improved in the future.
“Patients, carers, the community and voluntary sector are also sharing their views and informing us on what they feel is good about using these specialist services and highlighting where we can improve.
“No decisions have been made about the future of breast services. Once we get to the stage where we have a preferred option for future breast service locations we will undertake further engagement and, where necessary, publicly consult.”
West Lancs MP Rosie Cooper slammed the idea after learning of the plan which could move breast services.
She said: “Greater Manchester Heath and Social Care Partnership are reviewing Breast Services and I understand the preferred option is to concentrate all operations and outpatients’ appointments at Bolton.
“This is not good news for West Lancashire residents who use Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) for acute or outpatient breast services.
“No West Lancashire residents or I have been consulted so far about these secret plans which if they come to pass will mean those without their own transport will find it difficult to get to Bolton especially as Southport and Ormskirk no longer provide this service.”
According to WWL the proposal includes the establishment of three “breast centres” across Greater Manchester.
Discussions about the specific location of these centres are at an early stage, but there is likely to be a choice between Wigan and Bolton.
WWL has been invited to contribute to the analysis.
Trust bosses have said they are “proud” of the services offered to our patients across Wigan and Lancashire, which have been rated as “outstanding” by the CQC and that a “really strong case” has been put forward for the service to be retained in Wigan.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “WWL remains committed to the delivery of a modern, high quality and easily accessible Breast Services for the residents of Wigan, Lancashire and surrounding areas.
“The service is rated Outstanding by the CQC and we are confident that our breast proposal is compelling, for GM commissioners who are reviewing where they want services provided.”
Wigan cancer patients already have to travel to The Christie in Manchester for most treatment so this is by no means a new departure.
But potentially losing so many specialisms to other boroughs would be unprecedented.
WWL is particularly well known for its orthopaedic services based at Wrightington Hospital thanks to the pioneering joint replacement work of the late Sir John Charnley and the internationally-acclaimed surgical standards set there to this day.