The publicly funded chairman of Lancashire’s health watchdog has been slammed by campaigners fighting to save Chorley and South Ribble Hospital’s A&E.
Mike Wedgeworth, who leads Healthwatch Lancashire, has been accused of issuing “disgraceful” and inflammatory comments, including accusing people of “blood-curdling hype” and protesters of not recognising where the problem lies.
Although Mr Wedgeworth claims to have been impressed by recent demonstrations and supports the call for the A&E to reopen, he also insists the watchdog “will not join in any demonstration or climb aboard any bandwagon”.
At a meeting on Wednesday night, members of Protect Chorley Hospital Against Cuts And Privatisation voted unanimously to call for his resignation.
Group organiser Steven Turner said: “Healthwatch is meant to represent the people of Lancashire, but instead they’re trotting out what the Trust is saying, almost verbatim. The comments are disgraceful. What are they actually doing?”
In the statement, Mr Wedgeworth – who pockets an unspecified income from the body – presents facts about the shortage of specialists, longer lifespans and pressure on A&E departments as a reason why the closure has occurred.
Healthwatch is meant to represent the people of Lancashire, but instead they’re trotting out what the Trust is saying, almost verbatimSteven Turner
He urges a “cool look” at the situation and says: “Nobody likes to read news about their Accident and Emergency department closing.”
But he added: “Bad news stories deter specialists from taking up vacant posts.”
Mr Turner said: “Of course nobody likes to read stories about their A&E closing, because it means lives are at risk. But to have such a flippant manner about it is a disgrace.
“And as for saying bad news deters specialists from coming, that’s a red herring and exactly the line the Trust came out with at a presentation with us last week.
“Saying things like this is driving a wedge between our community.”
The hospital’s A&E department closed temporarily in April because it could not recruit enough staff to provide a safe service.
It has been downgraded to an urgent care centre, with ambulances taking patients to Royal Preston Hospital, 14 miles away, or other hospitals.
Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle has blamed “bad management”, but Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said there were no other safe options due to a shortage of doctors.
Mr Turner added: “We don’t believe that there has been enough done about the situation since 2015 when these problems first came up.
“There has been no contingency plan by the Trust, and yes, the Government are to blame as well.
“But what is Healthwatch Lancashire doing? Are they asking the right questions about this?
“I question whether Healthwatch Lancashire is fit for purpose, and we will be calling for the chief executive’s resignation.”
Mr Wedgeworth responded, saying: “I completely understand the passion from people in Chorley and South Ribble to keep the Chorley A & E open, which is an aim I share.
“I understand that some people are unhappy with the comments I have made and would like to assure people in Chorley and South Ribble that we are taking all the reaction we are getting seriously, including those from the Protect Chorley Hospital From Cuts and Privatisation group, and will be taking it into account in further meetings with the Trust.
“In such discussions we will aim to reinforce their desire to reopen as soon as possible.”
He added: “In addition, I arrived at the hospital last Saturday as the crowds were gathering, and had a good talk with many of those who were there, including Lindsay Hoyle and the leader of Chorley Council.
“I support the re-opening of the hospital.
“The role of Healthwatch was to champion and support the patient and the citizen. I think you will see from our website, the reports we have produced and the activities we undertake that this is exactly what we do.”
Healthwatch Lancashire received £438,000 public funding from the Department of Health for the year 2016/17 and employs 12 people with a cohort of 42 volunteers.
There are five non-executive directors who are volunteers in addition to Chair Mike Wedgeworth, who receives “some remuneration” for undertaking the role of chair.