Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has decsribed the unfolding outbreak as the "greatest challenge in living history" for the NHS.
The trust has not yet revealed when the Chorley department will close and says more details will be released in the coming days.
of medical equipment and delivering a safe and effective service. The priority of the trust is to ensure a safe patient experience and safe staffing levels in all areas.
“At this time of exceptional circumstance, the trust has a responsibility to act in the best interests of patients and staff and this will require a temporary reorganisation of our urgent and emergency systems. 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. All the decisions have been made with the support of the Trust Board, Clinical Commissioning Group, Integrated Care System, NHS England and NHS Improvement.
“We would like to recognise the amazing work and efforts of our NHS staff and volunteers, as they deliver care and treatment, in a sensitive and humane way to all patients, over the next weeks and months.
“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 said.
But MPs have heavily criricised the move.
South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher made a direct appeal to Karen Partington in a video messsage on Twitter on Friday evening asking her not to close the unit. She said that she had sought figures from the trust about exactly how many additional staff were needed - but had not been given enough time to put the request to ministers.
Speaking seprarately to the Post, Ms. Fletcher said: “I asked the trust to hold fire and said that I would walk down Victoria Street in London to the Department of Health and ask for whatever was needed [to keep the unit open].
"I’ve been in daily contact with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock about it. All of the MPs in the area are working together on this and I have stayed in London, because I think that it’s best place to be able to advocate on behalf of Chorley and South Ribble A&E.”
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle – a long-time opponent of any attempt to downgrade the facility in his constituency – described the move as “a disgrace”.
“I’m not aware of any other trust in England that is planning to close an A&E facility while we are dealing with coronavirus. In fact, everybody else is stepping up services, even with reduced staff.
“If the Royal Preston is to be dealing with coronavirus patients, why not upgrade Chorley to look after other patients? People will still fall ill with other things, so we should be seeing an upgrade, not a closure,” Sir Lindsay said.
The Post understands that staff were told that the decision was “clinically led”.
It emerged in January that a forthcoming public consultation into the long-term future of the unit was likely to 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.
A series of reports by clinicians drafted in to assess the plans – from both within and outside Lancashire – concluded that the current set-up was “not clinically viable” because of staffing levels.
However, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine noted that the Chorley site acts as “a safety valve” for the Royal Preston.
The consultation had been due to begin the summer.
Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, whose constituency extends into the South Ribble area, said the move was “ludicrous” and came at an “appalling time”.
“The A&E has been botched by management for years, as if they were trying to engineer a facility with no A&E. It’s what they’ve always wanted – but it’s not what the people want.
“Directing all A&E towards Preston at this time is dangerous – we need to spread the load. There is no confidence in the team at the top as they drive towards reduced service levels.
“They started with the conclusion and seem intent now on bringing this about. A clear-out at the top is needed [to] put patients first,” Mr. Evans said.
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