An award-winning Wigan health watchdog has lost its service contract and will be transferred to Bolton in a controversial move.
Healthwatch Wigan, which has gained national recognition for its work, had bid for a fresh deal but has been told the handover will take place next month.
Council bosses have said the decision to merge with the organisation running Bolton’s watchdog would provide a chance to “build” the services in the borough.
But fears exist the move is nothing more than a cost-cutting exercise that could reduce the level of independent scrutiny.
Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said the decision was “a huge blow” for staff who are now in talks about whether roles will be transferred.
The borough watchdog had until recent months been chaired by former Makerfield MP Sir Ian McCartney and has received plaudits for its work since its formation in 2013.
Earlier this month it was handed a coveted Investing in Volunteers quality award, one of only three Healthwatch groups nationally to receive the accreditation and the only organisation in the borough to do so.
In a statement confirming the handover, Coun Keith Cunliffe said the move would give “additional value for money”.
The cabinet member for adult social care and health added: “The current contract ends in September and a formal process was followed involving a written submission and face-to-face interviews.
“The council identified that awarding the contract to Bolton to oversee the development of a local Wigan Healthwatch function was the best option going forward.
“The organisation supporting our neighbouring Healthwatch satisfied us that they would build on the services available, strengthening existing expertise and support, while giving additional value for money and further investment in frontline engagement work.”
The Evening Post understands the decision could see Healthwatch lose its Wigan base in the Life Centre with services managed from Bolton and staff working remotely.
And sources have said the move is focused on reducing costs rather than handing the contract to most effective service.
Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, said: “This is a huge blow to the staff and volunteers who have worked so hard to achieve nationally recognised success and done so much to improve patient services in this borough.”
The local watchdog conducted spot checks and inspections of facilities such as hospitals, clinics and care homes.
Coun Cunliffe said: “We recognise the valuable contribution the current provider has made over the last three years. We offer our thanks for their hard work and commitment and want to assure people that moving forward Healthwatch Wigan will continue to champion the rights and priorities of local people.”