A SPECIAL meeting has been called by Wirral Council's leader to air concerns about health chiefs' masterplan for the future of care in the borough.

The move follows publication last week of a working document known as a Sustainability and Transformation Plan or "STP" for Cheshire and Merseyside - a five-year blueprint covering all areas of NHS spending.

The 58-page review said "reconfiguration" of hospitals in the borough will be investigated as part of a wide-ranging project designed to cut costs.

Speculation about Wirral's hospitals had been rife since September when an nationwide investigation found there could be a "glut" of services shut down as providers face a £23 billion national funding deficit.

Wirral will have to tackle of budget deficit of £170m over the next five years.

Senior health care managers from across the region have been working together on their proposals since December of last year.

But council leader Phil Davies said: "I am disappointed neither I nor any other elected member of the council had the opportunity to feed into the development of this report, nor was given the opportunity to see it before it was published.

"While it is clear the NHS is facing major financial challenges in the coming years, and radical and ambitious reform plans will need to be considered, let me be absolutely clear – the needs of Wirral residents must come first.

"We need a responsive, first-rate health service in the borough, with excellent A&E and community health services.

"I have called a special meeting of the Wirral health and wellbeing board in January to explore the implications more fully.

"And I am calling on NHS leaders to provide absolute clarity on the proposals within the Sustainability and Transformation Plans and to commit to a meaningful process of consultation and engagement with local residents before any decisions are taken."

Wirral Clinical Commissioning group's accountable officer Jon Develing assured readers that contrary to "leaked" reports published elsewhere, there are no plans to downgrade Accident & Emergency services at Arrowe Park Hospital.

Nor is there any scheme to close Arrowe and the Countess of Chester in favour a new-build "mega-hospital" at Ellesmere Port.

He told the Globe: "There are absolutely no suggestions anywhere to do either of those things.

"However we do have to change how we operate and the STP is a way of looking at health and social care in a joined-up, strategic way which will provide better services.

"To do this we have to spend the Wirral pound more wisely than before.

"This will involve reducing any unwarranted demand on hospitals while improving prevention strategies along with patient care at home and in the community."

Birkenhead MP Frank Field said "An urgent question facing our local healthcare managers is, how might the merging of hospitals impact upon the time patients are asked to wait for treatment, as well as the quality of the treatment they then go on to receive?

"Likewise, what steps are being taken to treat patients nearer to, or in their own homes, to prevent the need to visit hospital?"

Cheshire East council's wellbeing board last week refused to "sign-off" the STP saying it had been compiled without consultation with the local authority.