Whelley hospital to close

Whelley hospital is to close in a massive shake-up of health services across Wigan.

Around 155 staff, who work at the site were informed by emergency meetings on Friday morning that the hospital site would be closing to patients and that its 73 beds would be removed - but that "health services" would remain on the site.

Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust, which runs the site, said the decision had been taken for financial reasons and because of the recent changes to the way the NHS was being run, with fewer long-term patients being cared for in hospitals.

A joint statement issued by all trust directors said "as far ass possible" no jobs will go and that all staff and beds will be relocated - but they refused to reveal where or when until further consultations had taken place.

The news was greeted with disgust by union officials who said they thought the situation had been badly handled and rushed through.

Jean Heyes, Wigan's Unison representative, said: "I feel that this is rather premature in as much as we aren't able to give stafff any indication of future plans prior to consultation taking place.

"However, we will be working in partnership with the trust to achieve the best outcome for patients and staff."

One of the nurses on the site, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job, said: "It's a disgrace what's happened to Whelley. It's been left to go to rack and ruin.

"I am disgusted at the way in which this has been announced and I am seriously considering whether to stay in nursing."

It is only 18 months since the trust stated publicly that the hospital would not close. a statement issued in September 2005 said "Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust can confirm that at this time we have no plans to close Whelley Hospital. "

Yet the site has been wound down in the past few years, and staff have lone been convcerned about its future, despite repeated deni als of its demise from managers.

Whereas once it was a bustling hospital site, caring in the long-term for stroke victims and the elderly, the number of wards on the site had been slashed to just three, and playing fields at the rear had been sold off to housing developers. Because of the nature of the patients housed in Whelley, it had already been re-classified as a "sub-acute" site - no longer a hospital in the traditional sense.

During the summer months the number of beds on wards were also cut, to reflect the reduced demand, but before Friday's bombshell, they had always re-opened.

But directors today admitted that to drive through plans to become a foundation trust financially independent from the department of health and meet the demands of the modern NHS - where patients spend less and less time in hospital and are either cared for at home, or in specialist centres - the wards had to go.

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