PLANS to merge Wrightington Hospital with Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust have been announced by Health Minister, Lord Hunt.

The merger, say health chiefs, will help improve working partnerships and lead to better services for patients.

The two existing NHS Trusts will be dissolved and replaced by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust, from Sunday April 1.

The main benefits of restructuring both Trusts are:

A plan can be put in place for improving the management of patient services across both organisations, providing the best opportunity to expand orthopaedic services and reduce waiting times for surgery.

Better opportunities for developing the Wrightington site.

Reductions of around £500,000 will be made in management and administration costs, releasing funds for re-investment in patient care.

Better opportunities for recruiting and training specialist staff, with more varied career development and more flexibility in working arrangements. Trust managers have stressed that the plans relate to the organisation and management of NHS services.

They say there are no plans to reduce patient services.

Christine Jackson, chairman of Wrightington hospital NHS Trust said: "Our two Trusts have been working in close collaboration and there will be clear benefits for both in terms of an increased ability to support patients as a result of the merger, particularly through our aim to develop our theatres and infrastructure."

Andrew Foster, chairman of Wigan and Leigh Health Services NHS Trust, added: "We are extremely pleased to have been given the approval to merge the two organisations.

"The merger between the two Trusts will enable the development of strong trauma and orthopaedic services for the people of Wigan and Leigh, whilst ensuring that the expertise within Wrightington is both preserved and built upon."

Lord Hunt said that he had been most impressed with the two sets of staff and demonstrated a willingness to work together in a highly professional way to the benefit of patients.