A council committee which assesses health policy affecting Lancashire has been accused of being “full of nodding dogs” - by one of its own members.
Labour’s Steve Holgate, who sits on Lancashire County Council’s health scrutiny committee, said the group was failing to challenge controversial plans to reorganise urgent and emergency care services in Central Lancashire.
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He claims that the cross-party committee is split “along party lines” and accused Conservative members of being “naive” for their backing of a planned public consultation which proposes that the region should be served by a single Accident and Emergency unit.
But the Conservative chair of the committee rubbished County Cllr Holgate’s claims and accused him of being “political”.
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The row blew up after it emerged that the district councils covering Chorley, South Ribble and Preston could form their own joint committee to analyse the NHS overhaul being carried out under the banner of Our Health Our Care (OHOC).
At the last health scrutiny meeting, County Cllr Holgate called for OHOC to be asked to consult on the option of retaining A&E facilities at both Preston and Chorley hospitals. But his motion was voted down by the Conservative-majority committee.
“To suggest that [I was] tying the NHS’s hands is a nonsense,” County Cllr Holgate said.
“[If the Conservatives] are happy for [the process] to be led by clinicians, it doesn’t mean they’re going to get the best options...for the people of Lancashire.
“They forget that those clinicians are reminded when they are pursuing this new delivery model that there’s a £42m deficit at the trust which runs the hospitals. To suggest that they’re not going to have cognisance of that is quite naive, “ he added.
However, County Cllr Britcliffe, who succeeded County Cllr Holgate as chair of the committee last year, said the group was “one of the most non-political at county hall”.
“We have examined the issue thoroughly and spent a lot of time giving everybody the opportunity to ask questions,” County Cllr Britcliffe said.
“It has been given a good airing and people giving evidence to the committee have explained what’s happening.
“I recognise that it’s an emotive issue, but I think the only person being political is County Cllr Holgate,” he added.
South Ribble Council’s scrutiny committee suggested the idea of a cross-borough working group, which was recently endorsed by their counterparts in Chorley. Preston City Council says it is “keen to be involved”, but is “still waiting to understand the finer details before formally making a decision”.
Commenting on the proposal, a spokesperson for OHOC said: “The team working on Central Lancashire’s transformation programme has had some informal conversations with the local district councils’ scrutiny teams about the possibility of them undertaking a joint review of some elements of the programme.
“These conversations are in the early stages, but the local NHS is committed to supporting the local council teams in any way they can.”
A formal public consultation on the future shape of NHS services in Central Lancashire was due to be launched in the new year. But it has now been postponed until after local elections next May.