HEALTH chiefs breathed a sigh a relief as the long-awaited Healthier Together consultation finally went live.
The public are now being urged to have their say on one of the biggest shake-ups of the NHS.
It could see the Royal Bolton become one of five “super hospitals” in Greater Manchester.
The consultation — which has been two years in the making — was described by Healthier Together bosses as a “no brainer” if services are to improve across the region.
Speaking at the launch in Manchester yesterday, Cllr Sue Derbyshire, leader of Stockport Council, said: “People tend to get nervous about change in health services — particularly about hospitals because they are the most visible.
“People may need some convincing, but we support this as a really important part of our economy.”
The proposed changes could save up to 1,500 lives a year across Greater Manchester and the plans have now been opened up to public consultation.
Three of the specialist centres will be the Royal Oldham Hospital, Manchester Royal Infirmary and Salford Royal Hospital.
The Royal Bolton is vying with the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary in Wigan and Wythenshawe Hospital and Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport to be one of the other two.
The Bolton NHS Foundation Trust is proposing to invest heavily in maternity, children and obstetrics services, as well as the A&E department, if the hospital becomes a specialist centre.
Even if it does not win the status, the Royal Bolton will still provide an A&E department, planned surgery and full acute medical care.
Dr Chris Brookes, medical director of Healthier Together and an A&E consultant, said: “The current variation in the system is shocking and chilling.
“We must not rest until we have driven out that variation.
“It is clear to me that right across our system we need to make sure that reliable care is available 24/7, every day of the year.
“What I want is the public to have their say, to comment and debate their ideas. At the same time, I want to guide the public and make sure that best care is delivered by my colleagues.”
The consultation period will run for 12 weeks until September 30. People can take part at a number of forthcoming public events.
To complete the consultation questionnaire, visit healthiertogethergm.nhs.uk