ACTIVISTS are to stage a major pro-NHS demonstration within earshot of Wigan Infirmary.
Members of Save Wigan Accident and Emergency are joining forces with trade unionists and patients at noon on Saturday to fight what they claim is a threat to downgrade the status of the unit and increasing privatisation plans by the Government.
The protest - on the parkland next to The Orchid cafe - fear proposed changes in A&E services that may come as the result of the on-going Healthier Together review set against a back drop of £1.3bn funding cuts announced by the Greater Manchester Health Commission.
It comes with public consultation period on the future of the NHS in Greater Manchester yet to begin.
But a spokesman for the Healthier Together review said: “No plans, no proposals and certainly no decisions have been made.”
The protest is being “proudly” backed by Wigan MP Lisa Nandy who said: “It is vital that those of us who believe in good, local services, run in the interests of Wigan’s residents, stand up and say so. Health services across Greater Manchester are under review and now is the time for the people of Wigan to make their voices heard.
“In London recently the Coalition tried to close down a high quality, much needed A&E: a decision taken on the basis of cost, not care and we can’t allow that to happen here. This Government cannot be trusted with the NHS and if you value your local hospital, and its A&E service, stand together and make the Government listen.”
Wigan Trades Council secretary Terry Abbott said the group had now collected over 7,000 signatures opposing any closure or downgrading of services or closure of the A&E.
He said the demonstration and the petitioning were helping to give locals a voice in the consultation.
Secretary of Save Wigan A&E Dave Lowe said that even if Wigan A&E were eventually spared, if others like Bolton close there will be increased pressure on the staff at those which survive.
He said: “Given the current attacks on jobs, the downgrading of posts and the threat of more privatisation, fines and targets to meet from the Clinical Commissioning Group, how would Wigan survive if Bolton closes?”
Activist Katrina Cunliffe said: “This campaign isn’t backed by the two biggest unions in Wigan - The Trades Council and Unison’s National Executive Member Karen Reissmann - for nothing. It is supported because the decision made about our A&E could literally be a matter of life and death to somebody. I want to encourage all the hospital staff to join our demonstration.”
Healthier Together project communications manager Valerie Essien denied today that the review would include closing any district general hospital sites or casualty departments.
She said: “We are currently in pre-consultation and have been actively listening to patients as part of a wider conversation with our partners so that they are able to shape the future of health services, and there are no plans to begin a formal consultation in April.”
Ms Essien said Healthier Together had previously extended an invitation to Wigan Trades Council to become involved in discussions and that offer was “still very much on the table.”
She added: “We are committed to ensuring people have opportunities to voice their opinions and we would welcome a conversation with the trades council so that we can allay their fears around future services in Wigan. We will also be re-visiting Wigan during the coming weeks to continue our conversations with Wigan residents.”