It comes after a letter emerged on Friday in which some of Central Lancashire’s most senior medics branded the plans “misguided and dangerous”.
Seventeen emergency medicine consultants from the trust which runs the facility said that the decision to reopen it for nine hours a day from Monday (2nd November) was “unsafe”.
They told bosses at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) that the recent surge in Covid cases, coupled with the lack of UK medical experience of several staff recruited from abroad to help run the unit, meant that they could not support the move.
Now, the Chorley and South Ribble Hospital Campaign has also come out against the imminent reopening – fearing that any short-term safety compromises could jeopardise their long-held goal to restore a 24-hour A&E at the Euxton Lane site.
“[We have] fought for these services to ensure full access to healthcare to protect the lives of the people of Chorley, South Ribble and surrounding areas,” the group said in a statement.
“To reinstate an unsafe service, especially in such trying times for health services. would put those lives at unnecessary risk, not aid in protecting them.
“We also cannot condone what [effect] an unsafe opening will have on staff safety and wellbeing.
“Staff are already working under extreme conditions and alongside other political decisions that have reduced staff numbers to dangerously low levels."
The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the campaigners’ concerns have been sent both to LTH and also the area’s MPs, all of whom have called for – and continue to back – the reopening plans. The politicians cite NHS England’s approval of the decision.
The department was closed in March to allow for an increase in critical care capacity at the Royal Preston in order to cope with the expected influx in coronavirus patients.
The unit had been operating for 12 hours a day since January 2017 following a complete closure for much of the previous year because of a shortage of senior staff – the reason given for its part-time status ever since.
However, campaigners are concerned that the recent recruitment drive has been the result of a desire to launch a long-delayed consultation into the future of Chorley A&E – with the shortlist of options likely to focus on its permanent closure and replacement with an urgent treatment centre.
As the LDRS revealed earlier this month, NHS England has ordered that the facility must reopen before the public can be asked for their views.
LTH chief executive Karen Partington told the latest board meeting of the trust that the delay to the consultation risked “reputational damage” to the organisation, because of the length of time that it had been in the pipeline.
It was first anticipated to begin in January 2019, but has been repeatedly put back because of clashes with local election periods and the emergence of several additional requirements as part of the pre-consultation process.
The campaign group said that it is “greatly concerned that decisions are being made on a political and professional basis rather than the wellbeing and safety of residents, patients and staff”.
"[We] will continue to bring pressure to have a full service A&E, 24/7, at Chorley & South Ribble Hospital - but we do not want this to the detriment of patient and staff safety.
"Given that the long term plan for the service has yet to be finalised, we feel any move to reopen the A&E under unsafe conditions would be setting it up to fail and may ensure its permanent closure. We ask that the trust reconsiders its decision to reopen on 2nd November."
At the start of October, seven out of the required 12 “senior decision-maker” posts to enable the reopening of the A&E – 10 middle-grade doctors and two consultants – had been filled. LTH said that it was continuing its search for the remainder, but would use locums to plug any gaps come this week’s reopening.
The trust was approached for comment on the campaign group’s concerns.
In a statement on Friday, responding to the consultants’ letter, an LTH spokesperson said: “In September, our board took a decision that we were not in a position to sufficiently mitigate the risks associated with re-opening of Chorley emergency department (ED) on a 12-hour basis. This was mainly due to the lack of senior decision makers to safely run a second Covid-secure ED.
“However, following a further and thorough clinically-led assurance process involving regulators, board subsequently took the decision that we are in a position to mitigate the risks of offering a reduced hours adult-only ED service from 2nd November.
“The circumstances our teams are working in are unprecedented, and we take very seriously the concerns these consultants have about taking on this extra workload given the rapidly rising numbers of Covid cases.
“However, we need to balance these concerns with our responsibility to offer an accessible service to local people, wherever possible.
“We will continue to engage with our clinical teams about their concerns. The situation will be reviewed on a very regular basis both at trust and a system level. Unless further risks are identified, the ED will re-open as planned on Monday.”
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