Chorley A&E campaigners 'not celebrating' after closure consultation is scrapped

Campaigners who have spent the last five years pressing for a round-the-clock reopening of Chorley and South Ribble A&E say that the scrapping of a consultation which proposed its closure is “nothing to celebrate”.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 2:25 pm
Updated Monday, 1st March 2021, 3:04 pm

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, last month ordered local NHS bosses to come up with an option that delivers "high-quality care and continues to include Chorley ED [emergency department]”.

It came as Central Lancashire's Our Health Our Care (OHOC) partnership was poised to ask the public for their thoughts on two main proposals for the future of A&E services in the area - both of which involved the removal of emergency facilities at the Chorley site, to be replaced with an urgent care centre.

It emerged last week that Mr. Hancock's intervention had prompted OHOC to cancel its forthcoming consultation and instead consider the future of the unit alongside the development of proposals for either one or two new hospitals to serve Central and North Lancashire.

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Apart from a few weeks during the first lockdown, campaigners have been outside the gates of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital every Saturday morning since the A&E at the site first closed in 2016.

However, the Protect Chorley and South Ribble Hospital Campaign claims that the move could actually speed up the complete closure of the department.

Under a timetable set out by NHS England, a region-wide public consultation into the new hospital plans is due to take place before the end of this year.

A decision-making business case on which option to pursue would then be expected before April 2022, according to papers presented to a board meeting of the Lancashire and South Cumbria integrated care system (ICS) last month.

Since Matt Hancock’s instruction was simply to develop a consultation option which includes the retention of Chorley A&E, leading campaigner Jenny Hurley says that such an obligation could be met - with the possibility considered and rejected - in the space of the next 12 months, putting the closure of the department back on the table.

Under the now abandoned OHOC consultation, any changes would not have been completed before 2025.

“We’re going to lose the A&E under this scenario, this hasn’t saved it in any way, shape or form - it might even have expedited it. Matt Hancock hasn't said that it would be wonderful to keep the department open.

“[The NHS] can now say that the plan for one or two new hospitals is implemented anytime from quarter four (January to March) in 2022 - and once that it is agreed, they could just shut our A&E at that point.

“There is no way of saying what the timescale would be - it might stay open for another four or five years, but either way, none of this is anything to celebrate.

"We can only assume that local politicians don't fully understand the implications if they regard Matt Hancock's order as a victory," Ms. Hurley added.

She also claimed that the voice of Chorley and South Ribble residents would be “diluted to the point of irrelevance” in a consultation carried out across the whole of Lancashire and South Cumbria.

"We have spent the last five years engaging with the OHOC team, [who] have begun to consider local concerns. This position has taken years of negotiation and attending meetings.

"Much work has gone into having a public voice at the various consultation stages to ensure all residents of Chorley and South Ribble can have a direct voice on the decisions affecting our healthcare services. Both borough and county councillors were represented directly in OHOC and our hospital staff and GPs also had representation," Ms. Hurley said.

The ICS board papers state that a “whole view” will be taken of the region - including East Lancashire and the Fylde coast - and that a communications and engagement strategy has already been developed, which includes the recruitment of patients to work with the ICS on the new hospitals programme. A "colleague summit" is also planned for April.

However, Ms. Hurley said that the current direction of travel was towards the very destination that campaigners had long fought against.

“One new, shiny hospital will not be as big as Preston and Chorley combined. It doesn’t matter if you live next door to it if you can’t get through the doors - although obviously a site south of Preston is better for the people of Chorley and South Ribble in terms of travel time.

“It would be better to put money into existing sites and upgrade the lot - and that could be done. All of the infrastructure that has been developed over the decades has been based around where Chorley and Preston hospitals are located."

None of the options considered to date have ever proposed closing Chorley Hospital in its entirety - and many of them involved increasing its use as a centre for pre-planned surgery.

Jenny Hurley says that the campaigners' fight will now go on - and while that includes their weekly, now socially-distanced, gathering at the gates of the hospital on a Saturday morning, she stresses that the group should not be dismissed as placard-wavers.

"We have got contacts right across the country - and we really do understand what's going on when it comes to reorganisation."

In a statement issued following the cancellation of the OHOC consultation last week, a spokesperson for the partnership said:

"The NHS in Lancashire is committed to safe, convenient and high quality services for patients. In emergency departments that is especially important. That’s why over the last few years we have sought to find new ways of making hospital services better.

"Following correspondence from NHS England and NHS Improvement (North West) reflecting direction from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care we have taken the decision to stop the planned OHOC consultation.

"Instead, the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System, where all the local NHS organisations work together have decided to make hospital services better through the Government’s New Hospital Programme.

"This is a sensible way forward as it reflects the new options available to the local NHS through the New Hospital Programme which were not available when the OHOC programme began.

"As part of this work, we have been asked to fully consider options that provide safe, high-quality care, within Chorley Hospital’s emergency department.

"The CCGs and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are working together with other partners to ensure we are in the best place possible to take advantage of this significant opportunity to deliver long-term benefits for local people.

"In the meantime, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the CCGs are working to restore the provision of emergency services at Chorley emergency department to the commissioned service model.

"We continue to engage regularly with Lancashire County Council and its Health Scrutiny Committee.

"As you would expect with these and other matters, the NHS will continue to support service models which are safe, effective, and put patients first. This isn’t just what is in our statutory obligations, it’s what’s right.

"We are confident that this is the right way forward and we will keep you updated on next steps."

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: "Any NHS service reconfigurations must follow the proper processes, including undertaking appropriate stakeholder engagement and consultation. We expect local partners to work together to ensure safe and efficient services are accessible for all.”

NHS England North West was also approached for comment.