STRUCTURE: Plans have been unveiled to reconfigure services at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust by phasing out most of the inpatient surgery at one of its hospitals.

The Better Care Together strategy, produced by the trust and Lancashire North and Cumbria clinical commissioning groups, is designed to move Morecambe Bay towards clinical sustainability and to close an underlying financial gap of £26.3m.

The plan recommends that inpatient elective surgery at Westmorland General Hospital is transferred to Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General Hospital over two to three years to improve quality and outcomes.

Westmorland would continue as a local hospital and could potentially become a specialist site for eye care and surgery, building on its existing macular degeneration service and provision of eye surgery.

The plan promises to retain emergency care and consultant led maternity units at Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Furness General.

But it states this is subject to the findings of Bill Kirkup’s investigation into the trust’s maternity services and a review being carried out by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

A big shift of services into the community is envisaged, with the plan setting out an ambition to reduce hospital admissions by more than 9,000 over the next five years.

It is estimated that 525 fewer jobs will be needed as a result of the proposals, although the strategy says this will happen through “natural wastage and a reduction in agency staff”.

The authors of the plan say their proposals will produce annual savings £18m, which will close 70 per cent of the £26.3m gap. They hope the remaining £8m can be made up by extra funding.

The strategy states: “If the overall performance of the UK economy allows for the levels of staged funding growth identified in the NHS Five Year Forward View then this could provide additional resource into the Morecambe Bay health system to address the remainder of our gap.”

The plans will require £21m of revenue to invest in services outside hospital, £48m of capital funding to expand the two hospitals in Barrow and Lancaster, a capital investment value of £43m in new primary care infrastructure, and £6m in technology.

Andrew Bennett, chief officer of Lancashire North CCG, said local NHS organisations “[owed] it to our communities to be honest about the fact that [health and social care services] are struggling to consistently meet their needs”.

“We must change the way we do things to save the NHS for future generations, and to ensure all of us can look forward to a healthier future,” he added.

A consultation is not expected until 2016, and the implementation would be in 2016-17 at the earliest.