Asking the public where a single Accident and Emergency unit for Central Lancashire should be sited is like “handing a loaded gun” to the people of Preston and Chorley and inviting them to shoot each other, according to the leader of Chorley Council.
Alistair Bradley was speaking at a meeting of the authority, which unanimously backed a call for “all options” to be put on the table over the future of NHS services in the area.
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Just hours earlier, it was revealed that a formal public consultation scheduled for early in the new year had been put back until next spring at the earliest - because of the “rigorous processes” which had to be completed first.
Last month, a draft plan proposing a single A&E and major trauma trauma centre - along with two urgent care centres for more minor complaints - was put forward by Our Health Our Care (OHOC), the organisation leading an overhaul of the NHS in Central Lancashire.
Deputy leader of Chorley Council, Peter Wilson, said it was obvious what that suggestion meant for Chorley’s A&E unit.
“We know what the answer’s going to be, because we’ve seen it for the last 20 years - services go from Chorley to Preston. We saw trauma go, we saw stroke services go - it’s one-way traffic,” Cllr Wilson said.
And Cllr Bradley warned that the two areas were being subjected to “classic divide and conquer techniques”.
“Preston and Chorley are being handed a loaded gun with which to shoot each other - [either] by government or senior [people] in the NHS.
“We can’t be given a loaded question or a no-options question, which basically ends up with us and Preston tearing each other apart,” Cllr Bradley said.
The council resolved that the only way it would consider supporting a reduction of services at Chorley would be if a so-called ‘super hospital’ were to be built, serving the whole of Central Lancashire.
Last month, Dr. Geraldine Skailes, Medical Director of the trust which runs the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, said plans for a super hospital were “not yet well-formed”, but were being actively worked upon as a possible option for the future.
But Cllr Wilson told members that the option of a brand new building seemed to have been taken “off the agenda”.
“We think that a new hospital is a serious proposal - it could be the answer to a lot of the problems. Preston Hospital itself is in a bad condition. It's 50-plus years old and it was not built for the kind of demand it is taking," he added.
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The motion calling for a rethink drew cross-party support, with the deputy leader of the opposition Conservative group, Martin Boardman, giving his backing: “None of us want to see Chorley A&E closed or even moved at this time - until there is a bigger plan in place,” he said.
And Cllr Boardman called for the authority to be given an official voice within OHOC, which comprises health and social care organisations in the area.
The meeting ended with a message from one councillor who had witnessed what he described as “the disaster that was Preston A&E” when Chorley’s emergency unit was closed because of staff shortages for much of 2016 - it has been operating for 12 hours a day ever since.
Steve Holgate, a former chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee at Lancashire County Council, said that he had taken photographs of up to 16 ambulances outside the Royal Preston, each with patient on board waiting for treatment.
“Anyone who thinks that Preston can hope without Chorley A&E is deluding themselves. And it’s important that we send that message out to neighbouring areas to seek their support as well,” Cllr Holgate said.
“Anybody in neighbouring towns and villages who believes that they aren’t affected because they live closer to Preston [is] misguided - because it affects everybody.”