Patients needing a routine operation at the Countess of Chester Hospital may have to travel to Clatterbridge Hospital in future under controversial plans for NHS services in Cheshire and Merseyside.

This radical option is suggested in the draft Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for the region published yesterday (Wednesday, November 16).

Chester’s Labour MP Chris Matheson is furious.

He said: “I get enough complaints from people already, particularly in the south of the city and rural areas about it being difficult to get into the Countess, particularly on public transport. How the hell are people in Chester expected to get to Clatterbridge?”

Chester RUFC season launch at The Grosvenor Chester: Chris Matheson MP
Chester MP Chris Matheson

The STP, drawn up behind closed doors, sets out how NHS services will be delivered across Cheshire and Merseyside over the next five years.

If adopted, planned (elective) operations currently carried out at the Countess – not emergency surgery – would be transferred to the Clatterbridge Hospital site.

An excerpt on page 48 of the document states: “Explore an option to consolidate elective care between the Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Wirral Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust on the Clatterbridge Hospital site.”

The claimed outcome will be ‘clinically, operationally and financially sustainable services'.

But Mr Matheson fears taking consultants away from the Countess could actually undermine the ‘critical mass’ of expertise with a knock-on effect for other in-house services. This happened when the Countess lost the contract to deliver sexual health services causing its termination service to become unsustainable.

The MP believes the proposed changes fit with what appears to be a long-term ambition to merge the Countess with Wirral University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which is responsible for Arrowe Park and Clatterbridge,

First, there was a leaked email following a meeting with a senior NHS manager which suggested the ‘direction of travel’ was towards creating a single hospital for West Cheshire and Wirral , ‘somewhere near Ellesmere Port ’.

And this week it emerged a merger plan is referenced in the annual report of the Wirral trust. If actioned, it would mean replacing all three hospitals with one ‘super’ hospital , again on a single site, at an unidentified site.

Mr Matheson says it will now be ‘full speed ahead’ with his #countesscounts campaign to save the city hospital.

Tony Chambers, chief executive of the Countess, previously dismissed Press reports suggesting plans were under discussion for a hospital merger in his September blog on the Trust website.

He wrote: “It is not based on fact or an accurate reflection of any discussions and ambitions for the NHS that I’ve been involved in as part of my regular regional planning meetings.”

Ian Harvey, medical director and deputy chief executive at the Countess, said yesterday (Wednesday, November 16): “To be absolutely clear there are no current plans to close either our Chester or Ellesmere Port hospitals. The focus of all our efforts and energy in The Countess right now is in preparing for our busiest winter months.”

He added: “We are actively contributing towards an outline Cheshire and Merseyside Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), which is due to be published today (Wednesday). While we routinely meet with counterparts from neighbouring hospitals, this does not mean we are now pursuing plans to build a new hospital.”

NHS bosses say the next stage of the STP will refine the ideas further through engagement with local communities, the NHS workforce and other stakeholders such as local councils and the voluntary sector.