Opinion - Fears for the future of our Wigan hospitals
The gloves were off this week as Wigan’s hospitals boss gave his final interview prior to retirement.
Years of maintaining diplomatic public silence over frustratations and fears for certain aspects of the NHS’s present and future were set aside as Andrew Foster, departing chief executive of Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust, voiced concerns over what his successor - and, presumably, Wigan patients - will have to face.
As you will see in this week’s Wigan Observer, Mr Foster’s principal worries centre on proposed reconfigurations of the NHS across Greater Manchester.
This recently reared its head again with the suggestion a number of services, including the treating of breast cancer, could move away from Wigan.
As Mr Foster points out, Wigan is the only trust in the city region to have its breast health services rated as outstanding. And yet bureaucrats have decided that it would be better that borough patients travel to Bolton for that treatment instead.
He adds: “What worries me for the future of the hospital in Wigan is decisions like this will continue to be made pinching a sliver out of this hospital.
Eventually this won’t be a great place to work.”
And I’m sure it worries a lot of you too.
I get, to a point, that it can make economic and health good sense to concentrate certain services at certain specialist hospitals rather than spread them thinly over every medical base.
But for a borough with 320,000 citizens, seeing its hospitals gradually diminished so that children’s services and perhaps even maternity - not out of the question - are farmed out to other areas is a frightening prospect for parents and mums-to-be.
People want most of their health services to be within easy reach of home. Clogging our already congested roads with long commutes for every outpatient appointment, operation and visit to patients isn’t great for the environment of course.
But, even more importantly, from a clinical point of view it is streamlining too far. Taking away all of Wigan’s surgical services would leave an area with a population the size of Iceland’s too vulnerable.
The justifications for the rationalisation don’t hold water as the bean-counters make dubious comparisons between the surgical survival rates of Wigan and those of well-heeled Chelsea and Westminster.
He didn’t say so, but I bet Mr Foster is glad in a way that this is now someone else’s problem.