Chorley A&E campaigners fear permanent "backdoor" closure of the unit

Campaigners who have been fighting for the full-time reopening of Chorley A&E say they are fearful that its temporary closure during the coronavirus crisis is an “opportunistic move” to shut the department permanently.

Saturday, 28th March 2020, 12:25 am
Updated Monday, 30th March 2020, 6:18 am
Campaigners keep their distance at their last demonstration outside Chorley A&E - for now - on 21st March

Staff were told earlier today of the decision to focus the coronavirus response in Central Lancashire on the Royal Preston Hospital.

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Chorley A&E closure: 'a difficult decision to manage unprecedented situation', s...

Hospital bosses have insisted that the coronavirus-related closure is temporary and will be reversed as soon as circumstances allow.

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Jenny Hurley pictured outside Chorley A&E last year with James Corbett at the halfway point in his NHS-inspired 400-mile walk to Westminster

But leading campaigner Jenny Hurley feared that other factors were at play - and also warned of the short-term consequences of even a temporary shutdown.

“Our concern is that this a backdoor response to the local opposition for closing the A&E – an opportunistic move to do the deed while we focus on the main priority of keeping as many people safe and alive as possible. If there is even the slightest bit of truth in this, then those who made this decision aren’t fit to oversee our healthcare,” Ms. Hurley said.

“This pandemic has highlighted what we’ve been saying for the last four years – that the huge cuts to services will put patients and staff at risk on a daily basis. It’s taken a worst case scenario to highlight just how much.

“It’s not just the people of Chorley and South Ribble who will see even greater waiting times – and, in some cases, no access to a hospital at all – but those at Preston, too, with the increase in demand.

“And when Preston is at capacity where do we go - Bolton, Wigan, Blackburn? All these hospitals are already turning people away. Who decides who lives and dies?

"All other areas of the country are looking to bring in as much help as possible to cope in an impossible situation and keep as many staff and patients safe as possible. We’d like to know why we have been chosen to have these vital services removed at such a crucial time."

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals chief executive Karen Partington said that the trust had a responsibility "to act in the best interests of patients and staff".

"These measures are temporary and all services will be reinstated as soon as possible.

“We will make decisions based on recommendations from leading clinicians and heath care specialists.

“This move will allow us to harness all our available resources on a single site with the largest intensive care units, in order to better care for our patients. In addition, it will reduce the risks associated with transporting infectious patients between locations.

“Diluting our approach would unnecessarily put lives at risk. I would ask the public at this time to be understanding of the measures we are taking and the reasons behind them,” Ms. Partington added.

A spokesperson for the Our Health Our Care programme - the partnership of NHS and local government organisations overseing plans to reconfigure health and social care in services in Central Lancashire - said: “These measures are a temporary emergency response and will be kept under constant review. We remain committed to a public consultation regarding future hospital services configuration at the appropriate stage.”

Meanwhile, campaigners have been forced to cancel their weekly protest outside the hospital because of the new lockdown restrictions. They have had a presence at the gates every Saturday morning for 206 consecutive weeks.

Last week, 16 protestors took part in a socially-distanced demonstration at the Euxton Lane site.

CONSULTATION DELAYED

A public consultation into the future of Chorley A&E was due to begin over the summer, with a decision possible by early next year. It is not known how the coronavirus crisis will affect that timetable, but it is likely be significantly delayed.

The next stage in the process involves Lancashire County Council's health scrutiny committee being consulted on the work done to date. That should have happened at a meeting last month, but time ran out on the day - and the authority has now cancelled all committees indefinitely because of the current pandemic.

The Post revealed in January that four groups of clinicians - from both within and outside of Lancashire - had found that there was no clinical case for keeping the department open.

The unit was deemed not to be clinically viable because of ongoing difficulties in staffing the facility. It was a shortage of middle grade doctors that caused the complete closure of the A&E for nine months during 2016, before it re-opened on a part-time basis.

However, a report by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine - one of the clinical groups involved the recent assessment of future options - described Chorley A&E as a "safety valve" for the Royal Preston. But that did not change their conclusions on its viability.

Based on the clinicians' overall verdict, it is likely that the consultation - whenever it comes - will be based on three options: maintaining the status quo or closing the A&E and replacing it with one of two versions of an urgent care centre.

Although not thought to be viable, the current set-up will remain as an option so that it can act as a benchmark against which the others are judged - and in case those alternatives themselves prove unworkable. Respondents will be free to suggest any model for the future of the site, even if it is not officially listed on the consultation documents.

Under the urgent care options, Chorley Hospital would become the focus for routine, pre-planned surgery in Central Lancashire - providing an enhanced care unit for post-op recovery.

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