Fears that Chorley’s Accident & Emergency unit could close again have surfaced among campaigners fighting for a 24/7 service.
According to Protect Chorley Hospital From Cuts And Privatisation sources from the hospital approached the group to tell them that a review of the acute unit could take place in October.
However Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, has said there are no plans to close the department.
Meanwhile Steve Turner of the protest group says that he has never recieved a “difinitive no“ from bosses at the Trust to alieviate worries that it might shut.
He said: “It worries us. We saw similar pattern in 2016 when the A&E was closed. It was especially concerning this time when we got a specific month.”
Last April the unit closed because of a staffing crisis and re-opened on half time hours in January.
There has been a long running campaign to get the Chorley and South Ribble Hospital emergency department re-opened round the clock.
current hours of 8am to 8pm.
Activists have also voiced concerns that Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust staff appear to be leaving Chorley Hospital.
“Two doctors have left and although we’ve been told that the Trust has doctors to replace them there’s some amount of concern,” said Jenny Hurley, an activist for Protect Chorley Hospital From Cuts And Privatisation.
“Two nurses and one sister have also left and gone to Royal Blackburn Hospital.
“Its a little bit concerning for us. We know one nurse got a promotion but the others are either going because the terms and conditions are better or they feel their future is more secure there.
“It does bring up the question why have they gone. If Blackburn Hospital is getting better pay when why don’t the Trust here do that?”
However in a statement Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, told the Guardian that, although there are recruitment issues, there are no plans to close the department.
She said: “There is no truth in the rumours; we have absolutely no plans to close the emergency department at Chorley in October. It is unclear where these rumours have come from but it is not true.
“Since January the emergency department at Chorley hospital has been open for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, alongside a 24 hour urgent care service being run by a provider called Go2Doc. This arrangement is working well and we plan to maintain this service for the foreseeable future.
“There continues to be a national shortage of doctors across the country, and recruiting and retaining the right staff continues to be a real challenge. However, we have no plans at this time to change the current arrangements at the emergency department at Chorley hospital.”
Concerns that the hospital was under threat again were raised at a health scrutiny committee at Lancashire County Council on Monday, July 24.
Chorley borough councillor Hasina Khan had asked for more information about the ongoing crisis in emergency care cover at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital.
She said: “Rumour has it that Chorley accident and emergency is about to close again as early as October. Why is it such a difficult task to recruit a full team at Chorley?”
Professor Mark Pugh, medical director of the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, revealed the service was having to rely heavily on locum staff and £1.8m had been spent on temporary and locum staff in 2016/17. With extra consultant costs this has risen to between £2.1 and £2.2m.
But he stressed: “That’s a rumour – we are actively staffing the department... We are in as good a position as we have been but no better than at the start of the process ... We do not anticipate we will get to that point.”
But he also acknowledged: “The current model of emergency care across Lancashire and South Cumbria is unsustainable in its current format.”
Reminding the meeting that Royal Preston Hospital’s accident and emergency unit also had to be staffed he stressed that Lancashire was seeing the local effects of what is a national concern over staffing and availability of doctors: “We don’t just recruit to Chorley - we recruit to Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust for department staff. We have two departments open and need to staff both safely.”
He stressed: “The decision to keep the department open is based on the safety of the service we can deliver...My remit is to provide safe services for our patients. If we have sufficient staff we will do that. If we haven’t then there’s no alternative to make these decisions to either temporarily close the service or move it elsewhere.”
He added:“We’re going actively out of this country now to try and recruit doctors.”.
Professor Pugh presented a detailed report on the staffing crisis and revealed that while there had been 43 job interviews, many on Skype with overseas candidates, to fill the accident and emergency vacancies, (currently six full time equivalent posts), 22 job offers had been made, but only three had been accepted so far.
He told the committee that 17 middle grade doctors are needed to staff a 24 hour services at Preston and Chorley and at present there are 11.8 doctors in post, but some were not available for certain duties such as night shifts. He said: “This is a fluctuant and fluid situation. We have five locums currently working in A&E.”
There are also three junior doctor locums. He acknowledged that locums could “pick and choose” when they worked and sometimes failed to turn up leaving just two to three doctors on a shift. One had just handed their notice in.
There were also problems recruiting junior doctors, with better pay offers and, for example, £20,000 welcome packages elsewhere.
He said: “Effectively we have a stretched workforce which is constantly being stretched thinner and thinner across two sites. “
He reminded the committee that the Chorley unit had to closed when there were just eight full time doctors. The Trust is also seeking to recruit nurses to train as emergency nurse practitioners. He added: “We have continued to work extremely hard on recruiting doctors - we need to make sure we have a sustainable and safe service for people in the future.”
Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle has checked with Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Chorley and South Ribble Clinical Commissioning Group and the governers of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital all of whom assured him that the unit is not due to close.