Lancashire county councillors have clashed over the future of the Accident and Emergency department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital.
A meeting of the full council discussed a motion calling for the authority to state its “strong opposition” to plans for a single A&E unit to serve the whole of Central Lancashire.
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It emerged over the summer that a public consultation on the reorganisation of NHS services in the region was likely to be based on a recommendation for one emergency and trauma centre, two urgent care units to deal with more minor complaints and a separate facility for pre-planned operations.
Labour’s Kim Snape, who called the debate, said it was “absolutely essential” that both Preston and Chorley Hospitals retained an A&E.
But an amendment put forward by the cabinet member for health on the Conservative-run authority called instead for the consultation process to be allowed to come to a conclusion.
“It’s a clinically-led consultation and we should have an open mind,” County Cllr Shaun Turner said. [So] for that reason, I’m proposing we let the consultation run in full...and see what it finds.”
The debate then divided down party lines, with members on either side of the chamber claiming fellow councillors were playing politics.
Conservative members on the council’s health scrutiny committee were described as “shameful” for not supporting a similar call for a dual A&E option at recent meeting. Meanwhile, Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle was accused of “grandstanding” by some Tory councillors over his call for a super hospital to be built on the Cuerden site at the end of the M65.
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Labour’s Steve Holgate said the motion was designed to find out where members stood on the subject. “The views of Sir Lindsay Hoyle are quite clear - the views of the people in this chamber are not clear.”
“Considering [only] one A&E is not really a consultation,” County Cllr Holgate added.
But Conservative member, Andrew Snowden, said he wanted to “do what the medical professionals think would...provide the best care for every resident of Chorley”.
“From my experiences of many years spent in and out of Chorley and Preston Hospitals, I see many wonderful people who provide amazing care, but the system and the way the two sites work together causes delays and stress for people who are already in difficult health,” County Cllr Snowden told the meeting.
And he called for cross-party discussions between councillors and MPs on the issue.
There were noisy exchanges when Labour’s John Fillis, who spent 35 years as a nurse, accused the Tories of preparing the NHS for “privatisation”, to jeers from the Conservative benches.
“The best way forward is to fund our NHS properly,” County Cllr Fillis added. He was told to stop “politicising” the health service by Conservative member, Charles Edwards.
Labour opposition leader Azhar Ali said it was “tragic” that the debate had descended into political point-scoring.
“Please don’t let’s get into this silly-ding dong - I’m guilty of it, too,” County Cllr Ali said.
“This is about the bigger picture - sit back in your armchair and wait for some bureaucrats who are not accountable to the people of Lancashire to make the decision and you’ll suffer the consequences,” he added.
The Conservative amendment was carried, with one Tory, Eddie Pope, describing it as “common sense”, because it did not “tie the hands” of NHS bosses charged with redesigning services.
The formal public consultation process on the future shape of the NHS in Central Lancashire ws recently postponed until after next May’s local elections.