FORMER Wigan MP Sir Ian McCartney has slammed plans to downgrade accident and emergency departments which have left the future of services in Wigan in limbo.
Under plans announced by NHS medical director Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, a two-tier A&E system would be introduced meaning the biggest 40 to 70 units – specialising in heart attacks, strokes and trauma - would be called major emergency centres.
It would leave the remaining 70 to 100 A&Es – of which Wigan could be one – to deal with less serious conditions.
The report, released yesterday also suggested changes to the way ambulance crews and the new 111 phone service work to “decongest” A&Es.
Greater co-ordination between community services, such as GPs and pharmacists, would also help, it said.
The measures have been put forward in response to the growing pressures on accident and emergency departments.
Sir Ian, the chair of Healthwatch Wigan and former Labour MP for Wigan, says the plans will do more harm than good.
He said: “This is just confirmation of what we knew was going on in secret.
“The Government wants to downgrade A&Es yet in the same week they have been criticised by Monitor (the sector regulator for health services in England) for closing down walk-in centres.
“All this will do is lead to people going to A&Es with problems they should be going to drop-in centres, GPs or pharmacists.
“Wigan’s A&E and others like it are in danger of becoming glorified drop-in centres.
“However, nothing is set in stone yet and there is a long way to go in terms of things actually happening. Wigan A&E was built for local
people and that is its purpose. They cannot expect to cut costs by downgrading understaffed, over-worked A&Es like Wigan’s.
“Everybody wants to see improvements but the Government cannot have it both ways.”
The review said there also needed to be further changes to the system if pressure was going to be relieved.
About 40 per cent of people who attend A&E do not need treating there according to the report and the problems developed by a fifth of patients who are eventually admitted to hospital with emergency conditions could have been avoided with better and earlier treatment in the community.
The review also said the key to tackling these problems was ensuring patients got access to the services that were best suited to them first time.
To achieve this, 111, which has been beset by problems since it was launched in April (following a pilot in Wigan) to replace NHS Direct, will need to be much more responsive, giving patients direct phone access to doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust chiefs say work is already being done by the trust in conjunction with the two phases mentioned in the report.
A spokesman for WWL said the report made a series of proposals which were split into two key areas for urgent and emergency care followed by proposals for a two-tier system.
In May last year it was revealed that Wigan Infirmary would be one three units which will support three Major Trauma Centres (MTC) (Manchester Royal Infirmary, Wythenshawe and Salford Royal) which medics say will save more lives in Greater Manchester.
The other two units are in Stepping Hill and Oldham.
WWL say this is part of the new report and that practices are already in place in Wigan.
The spokesman added: “Some patients who attend Wigan Infirmary are already transferred to specialist centres for stroke, trauma, certain heart conditions and some children’s services.
“NHS England has stated that phase two of this review will take forward the proposals and determine what will be required to implement the changes nationally.
“The next phase of Sir Bruce’s will include public engagement and the cooperation of clinicians, commissioners and patients. An update on progress will be published in the spring of 2014.”