A public consultation into the future shape of urgent and emergency care services in Central Lancashire will not take place until early next year.
Residents had been expected to have their say on proposals to redesign the region’s acute care system back in January. The process is likely to determine the future of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital’s Accident and Emergency unit, which has been operating on a part-time basis for over two years.
But the consultation was delayed because it would have clashed with the run-up to local elections and risked breaching so-called “purdah” rules preventing public sector organisations engaging in any activity which could be deemed politically controversial.
It has now emerged that more time is needed to draw up options for the public to consider and also to allow the NHS at a national level to carry out an assessment of the proposals before it allows a consultation to go ahead.
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The Our Health Our Care (OHOC) programme – made up of local NHS organisations and local authorities – is currently drafting a “long list” of suggestions about the possible number and location of A&E units and urgent care centres in the region.
“Options range from stay as we are [or] do the minimum, through to two or three options about how we could be reconfigured,” Dr. Geraldine Skailes, medical director at OHOC and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) told a meeting of the LTH board.
“That long list will then have [its] feasibility [and] financial elements considered, before we move through to the short list.”
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle blasted the latest delay as a sign of “incompetence” – and suggested NHS bosses are scared to ask the public what they think.
“What really lies behind this is that they want to turn Chorley into a cold site [without A&E facilities] and they know they haven’t got public support, so they’re holding off until they feel the time is right.
“It’s a dishonest way to treat people and they’re failing the people’s NHS,” Sir Lindsay added.
The final shortlist of options is expected to be drawn up by the end of August. It will then be subject to assessment by a group of independent clinicians from elsewhere in the North West the following month, before being examined by NHS England in December.
But the new timeframe risks putting the planned consultation in conflict with purdah once again ahead of next year’s local elections – which means the process could yet be pushed back even further.
It is almost a year since the draft model of care on which last January’s consultation would have been based was published.
That suggested the public would be presented with a proposal for a single A&E unit for Central Lancashire, the retention of two urgent care centres and the creation of a “ringfenced” facility for pre-planned operations. No specific locations were identified.
But when the OHOC joint committee of Greater Preston and Chorley and South Ribble clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) agreed a final model of care in March, reference to the numbers of individual facilities had also been removed.
There will be no public meetings of that joint committee until after the shortlist has been completed. However, details of the earlier stages of the process are expected to be made public at that time.
Papers presented to the LTH board meeting described as “open-minded” the ongoing work to move from a long list of “theoretical” options to a shortlist.
“Modelling activities include reviewing current, planned and future activity patterns [and] providing insights as to where and how services might be best provided, so as to respond appropriately to current and future patient need,” the report said.
A consultation is required if any of the proposed options would result in a major change to current services.