'Nothing has changed' says Morecambe Bay's health boss after announcement sparks fears for Lancaster hospital

Morecambe Bay's health chief has sought to reassure staff after a government announcement sparked fears for the future of Lancaster's hospital.

By Nick Lakin
Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 12:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 7th October 2020, 3:55 pm

In a statement released last week, the government announced £3.7bn of funding for 40 hospitals across England as part of the second round of its Health Infrastructure Programme (HIP).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that 40 hospitals will be built by 2030 as part of the package.

It is not clear whether all of these hospitals will be "new" or whether existing hospitals will be improved, or a combination of both.

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The Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

In the list of 40 hospitals, details show a "planned replacement of Royal Preston and Lancaster Royal Infirmary, where subject to consultation either a single or two hospitals with appropriate re-provision of three community urgent care hubs and three out of hospital hubs will result".

The announcement set alarm bells ringing with Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith, and South Lakeland MP Tim Farron, who said the plans are "dangerous".

Both quizzed Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the proposals in the House of Commons this week, who confirmed "there is a consultation on whether to have two replacements or one".

But an internal memo by University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT) chief executive Aaron Cummins seen by the Lancaster Guardian sought to reassure staff that "nothing had changed" since a previous announcement.

Aaron Cummins, chief executive of Morecambe Bay's health trust.

This announcement revealed that UHMBT and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust, which runs the Royal Preston Hospital, were working closely together on plans as part of the government's Health Infrastructure Programme (HIP), and would be pooling their seed funding - £5m each - to make it go further.

Crucially, Mr Cummins, who is a member of the group looking at the work, said he doesn't anticipate any plans being ready to discuss with the public until around November 2021, and any building to start until 2025.

He said: "What we do know is that the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Royal Preston Hospital need significant investment to bring them up to modern standards."

He added: "We are delighted that the government has reconfirmed the investment will be made available, and will continue to include colleagues and our local communities in the way that services could potentially be provided in the future."

A consultation is underway about the future of health provision.

South Lakes MP Tim Farron has previously suggested a brand new larger hospital could be built at Junction 36 of the M6.

He said that any plans to merge the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Royal Preston Hospital onto a single site would leave residents in the South Lakes with “dangerous journeys for emergency care”.

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris said any proposal to merge the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and the Royal Preston Hospital was "simply not the case".

He said: "This week the next stage in the funding process for half a billion pounds of funding to rebuild both the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and the Furness General Hospital was announced.

The Emergency Department at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary.

"This announcement marks the next stage of funding where the hospital is asked to put a business plan together to show what the improvements to the buildings would look like.

"In our area the bid for the funding has been a joint bid between UHMBT and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals.

"The bid will be a joint bid from the two Trusts to plan improvements at three hospitals in our area to improve facilities in the whole North Lancashire and South Cumbria area."

In an official statement, UHMBT said: "It’s long been recognised that there is a need for local health services to be delivered in a better and more accessible way for the local communities we service, so we are pleased to receive this commitment to our future plans, which will be developed and consulted upon with local people before progressing.”

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith said: "When I quizzed the Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock this afternoon in the House of Commons he said that there is a consultation on closing the hospitals in both Lancaster and Preston with a super-hospital to replace both.

"He gave the same answer to Tim Farron MP, so I beg to suggest that perhaps Mr Morris listens to his own Health Minister and considers joining other local MPs in campaigning to save the Royal Lancaster Infirmary."

Meanwhile Green Party councillors in Lancaster say they strongly oppose proposals that may result in the closure of the RLI and Royal Preston Hospital.

Caroline Jackson, co-leader for the Green Group on Lancaster City Council, said: "Medical services need to be located where people actually live and work.

"Any new 'super hospital' may well be welcome in terms of facilities, but if it's serving a huge population miles away from where people live, it is not a development that we would welcome.

"Greens believe in localism and that means local services being provided to local people, with adequate funding, in such a way that means that they are accessible for everything but especially those who may be sick or disabled."

Dave Brookes, co-leader for the Green Group, added: "We very much hope that the Government will listen to both professionals in the field and to local residents to ensure that any new funding provides appropriate solutions for the communities who actually live here, rather than imposing top-down, centrally controlled decisions about local healthcare."