Chorley A&E will close down tonight - here's why and what will replace it

The accident and emergency department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital will close this evening, as part of controversial plans for dealing with coronavirus in Central Lancashire.

By Paul Faulkner
Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 5:39 pm

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) announced last week that it would be temporarily shutting the part-time department as it prepares for the outbreak to escalate in the county. Critical care at the Chorley site will also be removed.

As of tomorrow (1st April), the unit will be reconfigured into a 24-hour urgent treatment centre. LTH says that the move follows advice from senior clinical leaders which is “essential to save lives”.

It comes just days after local politicians demanded that the decision be reversed.

The temporary closure of Chorley A&E was announced last week

The trust claims that the changes will enable them to implement a 400 percent increase in the number of critical care beds across the wider area – along with the necessary staff to care for the people in them.

The Royal Preston will be the focus of the fight against coronavirus in Central Lancashire – with all GP referrals and ambulance calls for patients with respiratory complaints directed there.

LTH says that the benefits of the overhaul include providing a single point of access to emergency care for Covid-19 patients – and the ability to “safely separate” them from those being treated for other conditions. The Royal Preston’s current day case theatres and day case and medical escalation wards will house confirmed and suspected coronavirus patients away from the rest of the A&E department.

Bed space created at Chorley will be used for long-term fragility patients, while the urgent treatment centre will be supported by GPs, ambulatory care, an elderly care team and specialist surgical teams. It will continue to treat a range of walk-in patients and ambulance arrivals, including people experiencing chest pain and other non-respiratory medical cases.

Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he “wasn’t surprised” that calls for a rethink of the changes had not been heeded.

“All of the MPs have come out against this, but we have no influence. Even the Health Secretary has been involved, but they are refusing to do anything other than close the department.

“In New York, they are floating in a hospital ship to care for patients who do not coronavirus – so why can’t we use Chorley for that purpose?

“We are completely out of step with the rest of the country. The urgent care centre won’t have the specialists to make the [necessary] decisions, so you’ll just end up pushing people to other A&Es.

“I think the Secretary of State should step in and bring in new management at the trust,” Sir Lindsay added.

South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher – who says she has been in daily contact with the Department of Health since last week – added that she was “astonished” to discover that, under existing legislation, the government is powerless to overrule the trust’s decision.

“I note that the list of people who the trust say support this decision [including the local clinical commissioning groups and NHS England] does not include the Department for Health.

“All of the local MPs and both local councils have come out against this – so I would invite readers to draw their own conclusions.

“The trust have communicated appallingly throughout and I will be holding them to account on their promise that this change is temporary,” Ms. Fletcher said.

Meanwhile, the Preston MP Sir Mark Hendrick said the decision would be a "terrible blow" to people across Central Lancashire.

"I'm not happy with the way the management of the trust have handled this.

"Whilst the majority of care needs to be provided in Preston as the Covid-19 test centre - as well as increased capacity for beds and staff - it seems unwise to me for the trust to put all its eggs in one basket and close Chorley A&E in the process."

In a statement, LTH appealed for public support for the decision “at this unprecedented time”.

“Consultants who support the critical care unit and A&E department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital will move to the Royal Preston to allow the support of round-the-clock consultant rotas,” the statement reads.

“This means that our most experienced consultants will be on hand 24/7 to care for our sickest patients.

“A provisional date for the services to return to their former function has not yet been set, however, a thorough de-escalation plan will be prepared.

“Clinical leaders from across Central Lancashire have developed these plans and together we have a responsibility to act in the best interests of patients and staff. We call upon our communities to support the decision at this unprecedented time.”

Last week, LTH chief executive Karen Partington said “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.”

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