A PLEA for the Health Secretary to formally intervene in a controversial decision to transfer specialist vascular services from Wirral’s main hospital to Chester has been turned down.
An independent panel - recognised as the UK expert on NHS service change - has ruled the processes which led to the decision being made were fair and reasonable.
However the Independent Reconfiguration Panel, which acts as lead adviser to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, has also recommended it would be prudent for a local review to be carried out to “re-examine whether the current proposals meet the requirements for a modern vascular network.”
The panel's findings say the move will face “considerable challenges” which will need to be concluded carefully before the switch takes place.
Last October, Wirral Council leader Cllr Phil Davies sent a formal request to Mr Hunt asking for a full review of the decision.
The proposals were given the go-ahead in early-2012 and would see the majority of vascular surgical procedures being transferred to the Countess of Chester Hospital.
The scheme has been opposed by trade unions, MPs and some senior clinicians who believed Arrowe Park should be the region’s “centre for excellence.”
They argued Wirral has a greater need for the services and that the extra travelling distance could put patients' lives at risk.
Opponents also worried it was the thin end of a wedge that would see Arrowe Park being downgraded over time from a major hospital to little more than a recuperation centre, although this was strongly refuted by NHS Wirral.
The Secretary of State’s response was to instruct the IRP to investigate and report back to him with recommendations on whether a full and detailed inquiry into the decision should take place.
In its report published this week, the IRP said it “has seen no compelling evidence to contradict” the choice to move the surgery to Chester.
The ruling states: “The panel concurs with the view that the population of the south Mersey area is insufficient to justify two centres for that network.
“It is an inevitable consequence of the centralisation of services that some patients will have to travel further for treatment.
“The trade-off, clearly supported by expert clinical advice in this instance, is better outcomes for patients.
“It is important now that progress is made to agree the base for the arterial centre in the south Mersey area as soon as possible.”
But the document also said the panel has received representations from surgeons at Arrowe Park Hospital questioning whether the future of vascular services as proposed by NHS Wirral is fully in tune with nationally recognised professional standards.
It concludes: “The IRP considers it would be prudent for local commissioners of services to invite the National Clinical Advisory Team to re-examine whether the current proposals meet the requirements for a modern vascular network between the hospitals in Chester, the Wirral and Warrington.”