Today the Lancashire Evening Post launches the fightback to save Chorley’s Accident & Emergency department.
Hospital bosses have revealed that from Monday at 8am, Chorley and South Ribble’s A&E will be downgraded to an Urgent Care Centre, which cannot treat serious or life-threatening cases.
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust says the closure is temporary, caused by an acute staffing crisis that means both Preston and Chorley’s A&Es cannot be safely staffed.
But others, especially Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle, have revealed grave concerns that this is the end of the road for Chorley.
Today we call upon bosses to do everything they can to save this vital community facility, which has saved countless lives.
And stab victim Jessica Knight, who suffered a horrendous attack at the hands of a crazed knifeman in 2008 says the closure could be a “death sentence” for patients.
The 22-year-old, who was 14 at the time, was stabbed 23 times and medics at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital battled to save her life.
Now, following the shock announcement that the A&E department at the hospital will close from Monday, Jessica has warned that those behind the decision have “signed a lot of death sentences”.
Jessica, who lives in Buckshaw Village, said: “I wouldn’t be here for a start, definitely not, if that A&E hadn’t been there.
“There were four doctors and surgeons working on me - they were going to go home and then I ruined their day.
“The police had to drive the ambulance so the paramedics could have more hands to work on me.
“If they had driven to Preston, I would have bled to death.
“The doctor said to me that if it had been five minutes more, I wouldn’t be alive.
“So I wouldn’t have made it to another hospital.”
Jessica, who studies art and design at Blackburn College, said she feared for the safety of Chorley residents with the closure of A&E.
She said: “Time is critical for a stroke to be taken care of.
“I understand mine was a rare case, but there are a lot of elderly people, they will have major set backs like strokes.”
She said time was critical in situations such as strokes, asthma attacks and major allergic reactions, and is now supporting a campaign to protect Chorley A&E from cuts to services.
Jessica will be designing campaign posters to try to protect the department, and said: “They really did save my life.”
The announcement was made on Wednesday, and has been met with fury from politicians, unions and patients.
Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle said he believed the closure had been “engineered”. He said: “This is not a natural closure, it’s an engineered closure.
“Last week I was told we were two doctors short, and we’ve gone from needing two middle ranking doctors to closing A&E, so where has the rest of the staff gone?
“If the management has closed this A&E because they can’t recruit staff, why should they be allowed to stay in place, because they failed us?”
He added that lives would be put at risk because of the extra pressure put on other hospitals, and said he had asked for support from the military as a short-term solution.
Seema Kennedy, MP for South Ribble, criticised a lack of consultation around the closure.
She said: “I understand that patient safety is paramount but closing this site will put more patients at risk than offering a reduced capacity as the 50,000 people reliant on Chorley and South Ribble will now have to travel further when they need emergency care.
“I was only advised of this situation by hospital management at a very late stage when the situation had already reached crisis point and there was little room for intervention.
“This process has happened too quickly and without consultation when people have not had time to plan.
“A staffing shortage is not something that has happened overnight and stakeholders should have been made aware much earlier rather than this late in the day.”
She said she called on management to restore the services, and said she had spoken to the Secretary of State for Health. Karen Partington, chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Any proposals to make a permanent, significant change would be subject to formal consultation.
“However, this is a temporary measure to manage the immediate staffing crisis, and maintain patient safety.
“Currently we have no ability to staff our rota after Monday, and to continue to provide an emergency department service that isn’t staffed properly would be negligent, and an unacceptable risk to patient safety.
“The decision has involved local health and social care organisations who have collectively reviewed the situation, assessed risks to patient safety, and considered all potential options to maintain care.
“We simply have no other available option to maintain safe services for our local patients.
“We are aware of speculation that this decision has been engineered as part of a wider plan for Chorley Hospital.
“This is absolutely not the case – this decision has been made to safeguard patient care and is an immediate response to the current staffing pressures.
“We already have a working relationship with Fulwood Barracks because we provide some training for their medics in our emergency department, assessment units and theatres.
“We met with army colleagues this week to explore any potential opportunities, however it was apparent that they do not have any appropriate personnel who are suitable to staff the middle grade doctor rota.
“Emergency medicine is a specialty that requires specific qualified and experienced doctors to ensure the care and treatment provided to patients is safe and effective.”
Jamie Carson, director at Chorley Council, said: “We were shocked to learn about the temporary closure of Chorley’s A&E department and will continue discussions with bosses at the hospital to try and ensure it re-opens as soon as possible.
“We cannot understand how the problem in Chorley has become so acute when other hospitals do not have to close their A&E service.
“A special council meeting is being called for next week when councillors will look at what can be done as we listen to the concerns of residents and propose what we can do to help.
“We are extremely concerned about whether demand can be met at other hospitals and that’s why we want the A&E service to re-open as a matter of urgency and we will be doing all we can to make that happen.
“In the meantime it is really important that people take the time to understand the changes to the service so you know what to do and where to go should you, or someone you know, suffer an injury or illness.”
Tony Dunn, acting convenor for the GMB union within the North West Ambulance Service, said: “By closing this unit and transferring services to the surrounding A&E units (Preston, Blackburn, Wigan, Bolton) this will have a significant impact into the day to day running of an already vastly overstretched Ambulance Service.
“Transfers, extended running time for ambulances, ambulances being away from their designated area, people now ringing 999 where they may well have attended A+E by themselves etc.
“I cannot stress enough how this will definitely have a further detrimental effect into NWAS’s ability to deliver definitive patient care in a prompt manner which has to be deeply worrying for the people in and around Chorley and the surrounding area.
“Only two weeks ago, the chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, Karen Partington stated the ED at Chorley wasn’t to be closed, now here we are faced with the reality that it is to close.
“I’m under no illusion that they didn’t know then that this would happen. These are deeply worrying times for the NHS as a whole if this government continues on the current track with successive cutbacks to local health provision within Lancashire.”
NWAS Unite rep Neil Cosgrove added: “This is going to have a massive impact on the ambulance service in terms of our response times.
“I believe they will be funding two emergency vehicles and one vehicle for patient transfer. But we do not immediately have those vehicles, so we may be looking at going to the private sector, which is something we as a union would worry about.”
At a packed meeting, Protect Chorley Hospital Against Cuts and Privatisation campaign group expressed their anger. Steve Turner, campaign organiser said the group was “outraged” and sadid he would be organising a protest and a public meeting.
He said: “It would be unthinkable that our hospital which serves around 270,000 people could end up with no A&E.”