Is West Lancashire being overlooked in NHS plans?

Campaigner Mary Whitby said councillors would be "held to account" for their scrutiny of how NHS changes affect West Lancashire
Campaigner Mary Whitby said councillors would be "held to account" for their scrutiny of how NHS changes affect West Lancashire
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West Lancashire is “falling down the cracks” of healthcare reorganisation, a campaigner has warned.

Mary Whitby, from the Save Ormskirk and Southport Hospitals group, told Lancashire County Council’s health scrutiny committee that residents could lose out, because of a lack of co-ordination in the decisions being taken by the neighbouring sub-regions which West Lancashire borders.

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The NHS in England was split into 44 geographical areas back in 2016, each one charged with better integrating health and social care and ensuring their sustainability. NHS organisations and local authorities work together in these groupings, many of which are involved in redesigning the shape and location of services.

But while West Lancashire sits within the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System (ICS), the hospital trust which serves the area – running Ormskirk and Southport hospitals – lies within the Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership.

“How can you make decisions on services in Lancashire when you apparently don’t know if hospitals in neighbouring areas are going to close or remain open?” Ms. Whitby asked.

“Their decisions will have a knock-on effect on what you decide to do.”

The Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS is currently drawing up plans for the future of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital’s accident and emergency unit, which has been deemed “not clinically viable” – although the possibility of it remaining open has so far been left on the table.

Meanwhile, a specialist centre for stroke care could also be set up within the Lancashire and South Cumbria footprint.

“If acute stroke services are based in Preston or Blackpool and I’m in Aughton…what are my chances of getting there within that golden hour to achieve the best chance of survival or recovery?” Ms Whitby asked, as she delivered a five-minute speech to county councillors.

“Are we just collateral damage – would our death or permanent paralysis be within an acceptable range of outcomes?

“Cheshire and Merseyside are implementing the same model, which means that [they] will only have one location providing acute stroke services – what if that’s at the far end Cheshire?”

Ms. Whitby called on the committee to resist the closure of either Ormskirk or Southport hospitals.

Committee member County Cllr Eddie Pope, who represents Burscough and Rufford, said that he would like “some reassurance [about] the continuing viability” of the two sites – but added that he would not expect stroke care to move any further away from West Lancashire than Liverpool.

Andrew Bennett, executive director of commissioning at the Lancashire and South Cumbria ICS, who was giving evidence to the committee, said that he was “not aware” of plans to close either the Southport or Ormskirk facilities – but that the hospital trust was best placed to answer the point.

Southport Hospital’s A&E last year underwent a £1.25m expansion and modernisation and a £1m ward refurbishment programme began earlier this month. Ormskirk Hospital’s adult A&E closed in 2005.

Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust’s deputy chief executive, Therese Patten, recently told a Sefton Council committee meeting that future options included the building of a new hospital in the area or carrying out further work at the existing sites.

Back in 2016, the sustainability and transformation plan for Cheshire and Merseyside raised the possibility of reducing the opening hours at Southport A&E, but that suggestion never came to fruition.

County Cllr John Fillis, who represents the Skelmersdale East division on Lancashire County Council, told the authority’s health scrutiny committee that the NHS needed “a major overhaul”.

“Unless we put [more] staff in and actually increase our services, this will get worse and worse. When we move on to the next A&E service and say that one can’t cope any more, what happens then?

“We’ll have Southport A&E shut down and Chorley, too – that will leave over 300,000 people without an A&E service. So all the way from Liverpool to North Preston [there will be] nothing in between.

“People say ‘we can do this or that’ – we can do lots of other things, but [none of them] are an A&E service,” County Cllr Fillis said.

West Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group, Southport and Ormskirk Hospitals NHS Trust and the Lancashire and South Cumbria Integrated Care System all declined to comment on the issues raised during the meeting.

The Cheshire and Merseyside Health and Care Partnership did not respond to a request for comment.