University Hospital of North Staffordshire plans takeover of services from centres in Stafford and Crewe
STAFFORDSHIRE'S biggest hospital is bidding to take on key services from centres in Stafford and Crewe in a merger move, The Sentinel can reveal.
The University Hospital of North Staffordshire (UHNS) has already started treating hundreds of patients from the troubled Stafford Hospital.
But now bosses will also open talks with Leighton Hospital to become the hub for acute care across Staffordshire and South Cheshire.
That would leave Stafford and Crewe with scaled-down centres serving less specialised and more minor needs.
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UHNS's new interim chief executive Jim Birrell will be told to lead the initiative when he arrives on Monday to replace Julia Bridgewater.
The take-over bid – turning UHNS into one of Britain's five biggest hospitals – emerged in a private letter chairman John MacDonald sent to consultants and senior nurses.
Leaked to The Sentinel, it says: "The board will be setting out for Jim our expectations for him over the next few months.
"These include ensuring UHNS becomes the fulcrum of hospital services in this part of England and leading discussions with neighbouring hospitals including the Mid-Staffordshire and Mid-Cheshire NHS Foundation Trusts."
UNHS already treats some cancer, kidney, stroke and heart patients from outside North Staffordshire but other services affected could include people needing specialist treatment for skin, back, joint, vascular, chest and neurological disorders.
Health campaigners in North Staffordshire welcomed the plan but warned that any poor practices from Stafford must not be allowed to 'pollute' care at UHNS.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Healthwatch, said: "The downgrading of a town's hospital will inevitably bring protests but it is better for patients to travel further if that means they are in safer hands than in an environment which could be dangerous."
Community leaders in Crewe warned any attempt to downgrade Leighton or shut its A&E unit would be met by resistance.
David Newton, representing Crewe East on East Cheshire Council, said: "Leighton is not a failing hospital and moves to downgrade it would meet some local opposition."
Julie Bailey, chairman of Stafford pressure group Cure The NHS, said: "We would welcome anything that puts patients' safety as top priority even if that means a merger with UHNS."
A Stafford Hospital spokesman said: "Some services are already shared. We can say no more at present."
No-one was available for comment from the Mid-Cheshire Trust.