Residents had been due to have their say on the plan in January 2019 - but that debate will now be delayed until at least next spring, because more time is needed to undertake the “rigorous processes” which have to be completed beforehand.
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Dr. Geraldine Skailes, Medical Director at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH), told a meeting of the Lancashire Health and Wellbeing Board (LHWB) that the “timeline for consultation has now slipped back”.
But informal engagement events planned for this week will still go ahead.
A presentation to members revealed that the new timetable for finalising any proposed changes to the NHS in the area will also have to pay close attention to “purdah” - that is a period in the run-up to elections when public bodies are limited in making major policy announcements which could be politically controversial.
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The consultation is therefore unlikely to begin until after next May’s local elections.
It emerged last month that a two-year project to reorganise hospital services in Central Lancashire was poised to recommend a single A&E and major trauma facility for the region.
The draft document also proposed the creation of a pre-planned care centre - in which beds would be ring-fenced from pressures in the emergency system - in order to reduce cancelled operations. Two urgent care centres would continue to operate under the suggested model.
The proposal did not specify where individual services were likely to be located - but it was set to form the basis of a public consultation on those details early in the new year.
Speaking in August, Dr. Skalles said that LTH, which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospitals, was “duplicating a number of services across the two sites”.
Chorley and South Ribble Hospital has been operating on a part-time basis for over eighteen months, after it was closed completely for much of 2016 because of staff shortages.
LHWB board member and Chorley councillor Margaret France also quizzed Dr, Skailes over the current urgent care service in the town and asked whether any “more experienced A&E doctors” were likely to be deployed at the facility under the planned changes.
“We would need to be absolutely clear about the requirements of an urgent care centre and ensure that [it] is staffed appropriately,” Dr. Skailes said.
“In terms of the current contract, we need to be sure that we’re commissioning a service that is fit for purpose, so...we need to have the people with the appropriate experience running that centre 24 hours a day,” she added.
Meanwhile, Chorley Council has unanimously backed a motion expressing the authority's disquiet at the now delayed consultation process. Put forward by deputy leader, Peter Wilson, it demands that all options are put on the table for consideration and warns of a “detrimental impact” should last month’s draft proposal be adopted.
“The Council believes the only potential viable proposal for a single-site Accident & Emergency would be through a new super hospital located at a central point within the Chorley, South Ribble and Preston area,” it reads.
“Without this option included in the consultation, Chorley Council strongly opposes any single-site options.”
Statement from Our Health Our Care, responsible for NHS reorganisation in Central Lancashire:
A spokesperson said: “For the NHS to make any proposals to change local services, there are some rigorous governance and assurance processes we have to go to before we can go to a formal consultation.
“As the programme has progressed, it has become clear that more time is needed to be able to meet these assurance processes, so it now seems likely that any formal public consultation would not take place until spring 2019 at the earliest.
“This extended timeframe for the programme means we will have even more time for even more pre-consultation engagement activity, and also more time for us to thoroughly examine everything we have heard from the public, staff, patients and other stakeholders, before putting options together for the formal consultation.”
Week of engagement events
A programme of informal engagement events on the future of NHS services in Central Lancashire runs throughout this week:
Tuesday 18th September, 18.00-20.00 - The Shield Room, Leyland Civic Centre, Leyland, Lancashire, PR25 1DH.
Wednesday 19th September, 18.00-20.00 - Chorley Town Hall, Market Street, Chorley, PR7 1DH.
Thursday 20th September, 18.00-20.00 - The Savoy Room, County Hall, Fishergate, Preston, PR1 8XJ.