SPECIAL REPORT: Health services in crisis

Protestors outside Chorley A&E. Picture by Mick Ellison
Protestors outside Chorley A&E. Picture by Mick Ellison

The warning could hardly be more stark ... lives are now at risk with the NHS on the critical list in Lancashire.

The closure of Chorley’s A&E unit today has highlighted the chronic state of emergency care in the county, according to the doctors, nurses and paramedics involved in the frontline battle to keep patients alive.

With casualty departments in Preston, Lancaster, Blackpool and further afield all struggling to cope, politicians and union leaders are calling for answers about what has gone wrong with the NHS here in the North West.

Chorley Council is to hold an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the loss of the town’s A&E facility. Councillors say they are “alarmed” and “deeply concerned” at the decision by the local health trust to downgrade it to a daytime urgent care centre.

The authority has demanded it is re-opened as “a matter of urgency.”

Today one ambulance union leader predicted the closure could cost lives as paramedics are forced to travel at least 10 miles further to reach emergency care. And another questioned why the closure was not being declared as a major incident.

Photo KEVIN McGUINNESS
Accident and Emergency, Chorley Hospital

Photo KEVIN McGUINNESS Accident and Emergency, Chorley Hospital

“People’s lives are going to be seriously affected by the closure of Chorley, there’s no two ways about it,” warned Neil Cosgrove, senior convenor for Unite within the North West Ambulance Service.

“It’s going to have a domino effect. It’s a nightmare. Every hospital is at some degree of crisis point, and I can’t understand why they are not declaring a major incident.”

Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley and deputy leader Peter Wilson have tabled a notice of motion to be debated on Friday. In it they say: “Chorley Council expresses its alarm at the decision taken by Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Trust to close the accident and emergency department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital.

“The council recognises the importance of the A&E service here in Chorley and is deeply concerned about the impact its closure will have on our residents, in particular the additional burden that will be placed on Preston Hospital and the capacity to deal with all emergency cases in an appropriate manner.

Every hospital is at some degree of crisis point, and I can’t understand why they are not declaring a major incident

Union boss

“The council recognises the financial pressures faced by the NHS and the national shortage of doctors, but is deeply concerned that the problem at Chorley and South Ribble appears to be more acute than anywhere else and therefore asks the trust for an explanation as to why this is the case and what efforts have been made to recruit staff and avoid closure.

“Given the concerns about treatment and quality of care for Chorley residents, we ask that the A&E department at Chorley Hospital is re-opened as a matter of urgency.”

From 8am today all serious and life-threatening cases which would normally have gone to Chorley will have to be transported to surrounding hospitals at Preston, Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan.

All four A&E units are at least 10 miles away from the town and paramedics are expressing grave concern that the extra distance could prove fatal for some patients.

Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Labour group in Chorley

Coun Alistair Bradley, leader of Labour group in Chorley

“That ambulance is on the road longer, whereas it could have dropped off at Chorley, it’s now faced with going to Preston or the other alternative hospitals,” said Tony Dunn, acting convenor for the GMB union within NWAS.

“It will have a knock-on effect for the people of Chorley because that ambulance is then taken out of that area. It’s putting lives in danger because it’s taking further ambulances off the road for extended periods of time and it’s something that’s out of our control as an ambulance service and it can’t be allowed to happen.”

Read more here on the crisis across the North West:

Preston A&E braced for as tidal wave of extra patients

Lancaster A&E feels like ‘a war zone’ says one top medic

Patients being treated in corridors in Blackpool’s A&E

A stark warning about how this closure will impact on the NHS across the region