A&E closure threat

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The A&E and intensive care units in Lancaster could close under a major review of hospital services.

University Hospitals Morecambe Bay Trust (UHMBT) has launched a review of services with details expected in March, followed by a public consultation.

The Guardian understands plans are well advanced to drastically reduce services at the RLI with options including:

* The existing accident and emergency department becoming a GP-run minor injuries clinic with serious cases going to Kendal or Preston.

* The closure of intensive care at Lancaster.

* A midwife-led maternity unit in Lancaster. If problems arise during births mothers would be transported to Kendal or Preston.

* Reduction in surgical procedures on site to just hip and knee operations.

The news follows confirmation that the trust’s appeal against the removal of specialist vascular services at the RLI has been dismissed, meaning patients will now have to travel to Preston, Blackburn or Carlisle for treatment.

It has also emerged that NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) will be discussing proposals to close the blood stock-holding unit (SHU) based at the RLI and to consolidate it into an existing site in Manchester.

The review of services comes as the trust looks to make savings across the board.

It has a £255m forecasted budget, but the government expects it to save five per cent of this, roughly £12.75m a year.

This effectively means it has to carry out more work for less money.

A spokesman for the trust, which runs the RLI, Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal and Furness General Hospital in Barrow, said that a service review had been launched, but would not confirm or deny if certain services could be axed.

Lancaster City Coun Jon Barry said: “If these plans are true, local residents will effectively be left with a glorified clinic.

“It seems clear to me that local people will die or suffer more serious injuries because there won’t be suitable facilities nearby to treat them.”

Kirk Panter, chair of the non-medical staff unions at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary said: “I’m aware that one of the options is to make Westmorland General Hospital an acute unit, so the A&E, ICU and everything would move to Kendal.

“I’m not aware however that it has gone any further than just an option.

“We’ve certainly not been approached yet to discuss this, but we’re due to meet with a number of directors at the end of the month.”

He also added that the loss of vascular services at Lancaster could have serious knock on effects for other services at the hospital.

Mike Oliver, from UNISON, which represents North West Ambulance Service staff in Lancashire and Cumbria said: “The ambulance service hasn’t got the resources at the moment.

“The resources that go into Lancaster would go into Preston and this would have a huge impact on south Cumbria and north Lancashire.”

It is not yet clear whether UHMBT is to launch a Judicial Review against the decision to remove specialist vascular services, which Eric Ollerenshaw, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood called a “huge blow”.

He added that closing down A&E at the RLI would be “impossible”, adding: “We’re so central. Any sugggestion like that and I would oppose it.

“There’s a lot of gossip, and also a lot of restructuring, and they’ve got to balance the books, but I’m hoping this is just wild speculation.”

On the loss of the vascular unit, he said: “Whilst I have always accepted that reviews to create fewer but more specialised units for services like vascular treatments are correct in principle, the way the process has been handled in our area has been fundamentally flawed.

“I have already raised this matter in the House of Commons directly with the Health Minister and hope that our local councils will also make their opposition known as vociferously as possible.

“Moreover, if the local hospital trust decides to launch a judicial review against this outcome, I will support them in that action.”

Jackie Daniel, Chief Executive, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust said: “Let’s be clear, despite what has been reported, no decisions about how services may change or be developed have been made, but discussions about how services could be designed and operate and what people want and value most about health services, will help shape these decisions over the next few months.

“We fully understand the passion that local people have towards their health services and we share this passion. After all, these are also the

hospitals that treat our staff and their families. Our aim is to ensure services remain safe, offer standards of care equivalent to the best in

the country.”

Dr Alex Gaw, Chair of NHS Lancashire North CCG said: “Lancashire North CCG is pleased that this essential piece of work (the review of services) is taking place as one of our key priorities is to commission high quality, safe hospital care.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for patients to influence decisions on healthcare for themselves and their family.”

Coun Barry added: “I am very clear that the RLI must offer a full range of medical facilities including A&E, intensive care and maternity services and urge everyone to defend our hospital.

“It is fundamental to a decent health service that there is a proper local hospital.

“The coalition government said that the NHS was safe from cuts. This clearly isn’t the case.”

“There won’t simply be a deterioration in health care.

“In addition, it will be more difficult for people to visit patients and there will be a net loss of jobs from our district.”

In April, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), run by local GPs, will take over the commissioning of local healthcare services.