A SWEEPING review of health care in Morecambe Bay has confirmed that Westmorland General Hospital (WGH) will not be ‘sold, privatised or closed’ – but a question mark remains over some services.

The Better Care Together report recommends moving most inpatient elective surgery - non-urgent surgery requiring an overnight stay – from WGH to Lancaster and Barrow.

It claims that surgery accounts for a ‘modest percentage of activity’ at the site, although this has been disputed by a surgeon at the hospital.

“I’m delighted they plan to keep a hospital there,” said consultant orthopaedic surgeon Bryan Rhodes, “but if you’re going to keep it open, why get rid of the facilities it has?

“In-patient surgery is a major part of the in-patient activity of the hospital.

“The demand for orthopaedic surgery and hospital beds is increasing not decreasing.”

The report says a ‘vision’ for the hospital could include either creating a centre of excellence for eye care, or for day case surgery.

It states: “We see this continuing as a local hospital, but also becoming a vibrant hub for a range of community and specialist services.”

Revelations last year that services could be lost at WGH as a result of the review led the Gazette to launch a ‘Hands off Our Hospital’ campaign, which received more than 3,000 responses. Many of the fears appear to have now been allayed by the new report.

Proposals to consolidate most surgery onto Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) and Furness General Hospital (FGH) include a plan to build two ‘super GP surgeries’ in Lancaster costing £30m.

One of the centres will be on the same site as Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) and the other is yet to be determined.

Up to six practices will also be brought together with community services in Barrow at the Alfred Barrow site, at a cost of £12m. This could provide a base for the North West Ambulance Service, district nursing, mental health services, a pharmacy, a Children’s Centre and social workers.

The idea of a single-site ‘super-hospital’ to serve the area has been ruled out as ‘costing far more than it would save’.

The Better Care Together review was set up as a joint venture between the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT), which runs Westmorland, Furness and Lancaster hospitals, and the Cumbria and North Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

It has cost taxpayers more than £3m since it began two years ago.

The proposals cover £18m of the trust’s annual £26.3m deficit – and the report details £100m of funding needed to realise its vision.

Jackie Daniel, chief executive of UHMBT said: “Our unique geographical challenges mean that we will always struggle to ‘balance the books’.

“The ongoing ‘gap’ in our health economy will rise to £71m in five years if we do not act now.”

Proposals putting the emphasis on ‘out of hospital’ care aim to reduce the number of hospital admissions by more than 9,000 over the next five years.

The report estimates that 150 fewer hospital beds will be required as a result.

Alan Price, secretary of patients campaign group South Lakes Health Action, said: “Nobody likes going to hospital so if there are sufficient resources in the community to make this happen it’s a very positive step.”

South Lakes MP Tim Farron said he would strongly oppose any plans to reduce overnight surgeries at WGH, but called the report ‘a positive indication’.

“The day care surgery would be spectacular news for our hospital,” he said.

“It would be a once in a generation opportunity to reinvigorate Westmorland General meaning that - alongside the promise of radiotherapy - we could be about to see the biggest boost to our hospital since it was built.”

Labour's Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock has vowed to step up campaigning after the report said a full A&E and maternity unit in Furness General was vital - but could not be funded on existing budgets.

Better Care Together have emphasised that no decisions have been made and a full consultation will need to be held before any changes.