'Don't do it': politicians plead for rethink over Chorley A&E closure

South Ribble’s MP says she was poised to ask health ministers for “whatever was needed” to keep open Chorley and South Ribble A&E – when the decision was taken to shut the unit for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

By Paul Faulkner
Monday, 30th March 2020, 1:24 pm
Updated Monday, 30th March 2020, 1:36 pm

Katherine Fletcher presented figures to the Department of Health on Friday afternoon setting out the staffing shortfall that would have to be bridged to allow the part-time facility to remain in operation. But just hours earlier, staff had been told that the department would close to allow the focus of the coronavirus response in Central Lancashire to be on the Royal Preston.

Ms. Fletcher told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she had sought details from Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH), the trust which runs both sites, about exactly how many additional staff were required – but had not been given enough time to put the request to ministers.

“I asked the trust to hold fire and said that I would walk to the Department of Health and ask for whatever was needed [to keep the unit open],” she said, adding that the government was “aware [of the situation] and looking into it”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

From top left - Katherine Fletcher MP (South Ribble), Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP (Chorley), Alistair Bradley (Chorley Council leader) and Paul Foster (South Ribble Borough Council leader)

In a video posted online, Ms. Fletcher made a public plea to Karen Partington, chief executive of LTH: “Karen, please don’t shut 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 closure 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.

Political pressure has been mounting on the trust, with strongly-worded letters also being sent by both Chorley and South Ribble councils demanding that the decision be reversed.

Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said he was “appalled” to learn of the move, urging local NHS bosses to maximise use of the facilities available to them during the current outbreak.

He also warned that the nine-month closure of Chorley A&E in 2016 had undermined public trust.

“The last decision, taken in haste and badly thought out, has significantly damaged the reputation of all involved probably for a generation. The actions taken then still act as a millstone around every decision the trust makes to this day – and to repeat the mistakes of the past borders on the ludicrous.

“No doubt ‘experts’ are again justifying this proposal behind a myriad set of statistics and risk analysis,” wrote Cllr Bradley, who stressed that he was speaking in his capacity as council leader and not an LTH governor.

Meanwhile, South Ribble Borough Council leader Paul Foster questioned the wisdom of the move at a point when the coronavirus crisis was going to “impact our communities in a way I don’t think any of us can fully comprehend”.

“There is absolutely no justification for this decision if the safety of our local communities is our primary and sole concern. In every other area of the country, the NHS is desperately looking to add emergency provision, not downgrade it.

“This decision would be a fundamental error of judgement and one that the trust will be heavily criticised for over many years to come – and I hate to use such emotive language, but this decision will cost lives,” Cllr Foster added.

HOSPITAL BOSS APPEALS FOR PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals says that the decision to close its A&E unit for the duration of the coronavirus crisis has been taken “in the best interests of patients and staff”.

Chief executive, Karen Partington said: “Working with local health and care partners, we have assessed the potential repercussions on our hospitals in terms of capacity, availability 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.