The full council met for the first time since a report by local clinicians laid out a series of options for the future of the A&E at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital - which concluded that any plan to retain the unit in its current part-time form, or to upgrade it, was not “clinically viable”.
Two different models of urgent care centre were put forward as possible alternatives, while the possibility of a full-time A&E - although found not to be workable - was left open. Central Lancashire's two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) later decided to keep all options on the table, while they are scrutinised by a broader range of medics.
Deputy leader of Chorley Council, Peter Wilson, said that the reintroduction of a 24-hour emergency unit at the Chorley site - a service which ceased in January 2016 - was the most sensible solution.
“[We have] a growing population and increasing needs...but we see an agenda driven by a need to save money - that’s fundamentally what this programme is about.
“Underfunding of the NHS by central government is a disgrace, but I think we have particular problems in Chorley, [because] under Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, it’s not well managed either,” Cllr Wilson said, urging the trust to address the reasons why the A&E was not thought to be viable.
The Conservative opposition said it shared the ruling Labour group’s suggested solution - and at least some aspects of its diagnosis.
“This isn’t down to money or government decision - this is down to the mismanagement of the [local] trust,” Conservative group leader Martin Boardman said.
Councillors unanimously backed a motion which also called for a “super hospital” on a central site in the region to be included in the list of options under consideration. CCG members voted last month to make a fresh bid to the government to fund such a project - but said that it could not be classed as a formal option unless finance was officially secured.
Cllr Wilson warned that the transfer of A&E services to the current Royal Preston would be a "disaster” for the region.
“When Chorley temporarily closed its A&E in 2016, we saw the huge queues and the lining up of ambulances at Preston - that’s the one thing we have to avoid at all costs,” he said.
Responding to the criticism levelled at her organisation during the meeting, Karen Partington, chief executive at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Our own clinicians who work at our hospitals and care for local people on a daily basis have long believed that things need to change if the care they provide is to be improved. This was described within the "case for change" which was reviewed and approved by the joint committee of CCGs in December 2018.
"The case for change clearly outlines the significant challenges which we must address. Many of these are national challenges which we are feeling locally, such as staff shortages and, whilst we have already started to make improvements to address these, small steps will not give us a long-term solution for sustainable services in Central Lancashire.
"The need for change has also been further reiterated by the honest assessments of external and independent clinical experts who spoke with many of our staff and reviewed clinical data available to them. Furthermore, independent researchers also spoke with local residents and found that nine out of ten people believe that the local NHS needs to change, too.
"That means looking at new options for how our services are organised if we are to make the best use of our clinical workforce, our buildings and environments, as well as improve the way local people are able to access the services they need," Ms. Partington added.
Denis Gizzi, chief officer at the Chorley and South Ribble and Greater Preston CCGs said that Chorley Council was a “valued partner” in the Our Health Our Care programme which is designing the future shape of NHS services in Central Lancashire.
“No option has been formally discounted at this stage of the programme and further work is taking place around the A&E model at both hospital sites, reflecting our continuing open-minded approach. This includes undertaking further significant clinical assessment and scrutiny of all 13 options presented.
“We have not identified a preferred option from those published and it will be some time before we are in a position to be able to formally consult on the options developed. Any consultation about these options will be open, honest, and fair, allowing everyone an opportunity to have their say.
“No decisions about the options will be taken until after such a consultation has taken place and no option will be implemented by the programme unless it can be demonstrated to be safe, clinically viable and sustainable for the future,” Mr. Gizzi added.
SOUTH RIBBLE SUPPORT?
South Ribble MP Seema Kennedy says she is soon to meet with the health secretary to push for the full-time reopening of Chorley and South Ribble Hospital’s A&E.
Her stance on the subject was questioned in the chamber at Chorley Council when it was contrasted with that of Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle, a vocal critic of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals. Deputy council leader Peter Wilson said that Ms. Kennedy had offered her support at a meeting which she attended at the town hall two years ago - but that was “the last time I saw or heard from her”.
But in a statement, Ms. Kennedy indicated that she stood squarely behind attempts to reinstate a round-the-clock service.
“I understand the strength of feeling that many of my constituents have over the future of the A&E department at Chorley & South Ribble Hospital - and that is why I have been working hard to ensure that the unit is re-opened on a full-time basis as soon as possible.
“I was extremely disappointed when the original decision to close the department was announced. Since then, I have met with the chief executive of the hospital Trust on numerous occasions and health ministers then to find practical ways of getting sufficient staff to the hospital in order for the department to safely open its door once more.
“I am pleased that the A&E unit is now open for twelve hours a day, but this is still not satisfactory. I will continue to press for the complete re-opening of the department on a permanent 24 hour basis, working with any of my colleagues, of any political persuasion, to achieve this outcome.
“I have spoken with Chorley’s MP, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, on this matter on many occasions in Parliament and I have a meeting with the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, in the near future to press for further action to re-open the unit on a full-time basis,” Ms. Kennedy added.