A QUESTION mark is hanging over the future of Westmorland General Hospital after consultants revealed that services could be moved to Lancaster.
Two top medics have spoken out following a meeting with trust chief executive Jackie Daniel where they learned that services could be moved elsewhere as part of a £165million project.
The news led to ‘shock’ among staff at the site and South Lakes MP Tim Farron has launched a ‘Hands off Our Hospital’ campaign, in a bid to prevent the site being ‘downgraded’.
“It is unthinkable that the hospital should do anything other than grow and provide a greater service to local people,” he said.
“It’s thanks to vigilant people on the inside that we’ve managed to get wind of this early.”
The proposal was revealed by Bryan Rhodes, a consultant trauma and orthopaedic surgeon at Kendal and Lancaster.
“This just came totally out of the blue,” said the Burton-in-Kendal resident.
“I think the managers will say they’re doing this to protect the future of the trust, but I think it will destroy it because it will take away the heart of the trust.
“We’ve been told there are a lot of possible options but this seemed to be the most developed idea. It seemed like it was being told as ‘this is now the plan’.”
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Mr Rhodes said he and around 50 others were told at the meeting in Grange that the WGH site could be ‘gifted to a social enterprise’ – although what the ‘enterprise’ would be was not made clear.
They also said the number of services that could be moved was unclear.
“What they said was: ‘We’ve looked at various options and this is the most realistic option’ – that’s how it was presented,” said another consultant, who asked to remain anonymous.
“They said they would still be providing services at WGH but did not say what specialists or what level of service would be there.”
Both he and Mr Rhodes said they were told £150m could be invested in new buildings and upgrades at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and another £15m at Furness General.
Lunesdale MP David Morris said he would welcome such investment at RLI.
The proposal was made as part of the Better Care Together process, which is being led by GPs, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust, to provide a long-term plan for healthcare across Morecambe Bay.
“We have said since we began this work two years ago that we would look at all options,” said hospitals trust chief Jackie Daniel.
However, she added that there were ‘no plans’ to close Westmorland General Hospital and accused the consultants of causing ‘needless worry’.
“The discussions we have had with our clinicians have explored a number of different ideas about how improving services for our patients might be achieved,” she said.
“As to the future of WGH, what is important is that the services provided are appropriate, safe and of a high quality – that must remain our priority for all of our hospitals.”
Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock said ‘it may prove to be an unfounded scare’, but said: “The truth is we need three vibrant hospitals in the area.”
Mr Farron’s campaign was launched on social media to about 30,000 followers.
He said he would launch a petition and ensure that the community ‘fought any such proposal together’.