Health secretary says Chorley A&E will reopen "as soon as possible" - but hospital bosses warn that's not yet
The trust which runs Chorley and South Ribble Hospital says that a claim by the health secretary that the site’s accident and emergency unit will reopen “as soon as possible” simply confirms existing local plans.
The part-time facility was closed completely at the end of March as part of the response by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LTH) to the coronavirus outbreak.
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, Matt Hancock said that the department would be included in the process of “reopening up the NHS”, after some parts of it were scaled back to help deal with the pandemic.
“[This includes] any temporary closures that may have taken place – for instance, in A&Es that need to reopen. I can think of one example in Chorley, which we’re working hard to reopen as soon as possible…and I’m happy to put that on the record,” the secretary of state said.
When the closure was announced, healthcare bosses in Central Lancashire said the move would help create a 400 percent increase in intensive care beds for Covid-19 patients – and insisted that the shutdown was temporary.
But it drew strong criticism from MPs whose constituencies are served by the Euxton Lane site, along with campaigners who claimed that it was a way of bypassing postponed plans for a public consultation into the future of the unit – two of the likely options for which recommend converting the A&E into an urgent treatment centre.
LTH chief executive Karen Partington, said that both groups should take comfort from the government statement – but warned that nothing would be changing in the short term.
“We realise that these temporary changes are a cause of concern for some within our local community.
“We therefore very much welcome the health secretary’s comments in the House of Commons which are entirely consistent with our own position that we will restore services to Chorley as soon as it is safe to do so. We hope that this assurance at a national level will give people the confidence to allow us to get on with the job in hand.
“The North West has not yet had its peak of coronavirus cases – and our priority continues to be to use our hospitals flexibly and in a way that provides the safest possible care to the people of Preston, Chorley and South Ribble.
“Thank you for your support,” added Ms Partington, who reiterated that the closure decision had been taken on the basis of clinical advice – and said that the hospital’s own consultants and the area’s clinical commissioning group (CCG) have since written letters of support, highlighting that the move had been “based on clinical need and patient safety”.
Commons Speaker and Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle – to whom the health secretary’s comments about reopening the A&E were addressed – said that he was “pleased to hear the commitment”, but stressed that “the pressure [will] remain until that happens”.
South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher, who issued a public plea to Karen Partington not to shut the unit five weeks ago, said: “I’m delighted to see the secretary of state acknowledge, on the record, that Mr. Speaker, along with other colleagues in Lancashire, are working very hard behind the scenes to ensure that the A&E changes are temporary and that it will reopen.”
Sir Lindsay Hoyle also questioned why pathology capacity at Chorley Hospital was not being deployed to help in the effort to increase testing levels for coronavirus.
“Why has the path lab at Chorley not been used for Covid 19, [given that the health secretary] keeps asking labs for help with swab results?” he asked.
But a spokesperson for LTH insisted that there were fundamental reasons why the focus of coronavirus testing was on the Royal Preston Hospital.
“This enables us to isolate the staff and services at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital to ensure that we don’t cross infect clinical staff working on each site. This ensures as far as possible that we are able to maintain emergency services – such as blood transfusions – on both sites and cover the other site in case one laboratory becomes compromised because of staff illness.
“The laboratory at Royal Preston Hospital is larger than our laboratory at Chorley and has all of the specialist equipment and skilled staff that we need to carry out extensive testing. It is not practical to relocate the equipment and staff from its current location and would undermine our strategy of maintaining resilience for other testing on both sites; this would be critical in the event that either site was compromised, to ensure that we are still able to provide emergency services.
“The Chorley site is being used to provide much needed capacity during this outbreak. We are treating some of our less ill Covid-19 patients at Chorley and we continue to provide a range of other services there including frailty, fractures and minor head injuries. We are also building a new ophthalmology centre and are in the process of reinstating our birth centre at Chorley.
“We are very proud of the fact that we have been able to quickly respond and facilitate testing for patients for the whole of Lancashire and South Cumbria as well as our staff. Again, we want to take this opportunity to thank people for their continued support during this challenging time.”