Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has accused hospital chiefs of a ‘disgraceful’ attempt to use the coronavirus crisis to shut down his local accident and emergency unit.
He reacted with fury after health bosses announced they were closing the A&E in his Chorley constituency as part of wider plans to prepare for the virus pandemic.
The Speaker branded the decision ‘completely unjustified’ and angrily accused his local hospital trust of using the current crisis as an excuse to fulfil its alleged ambitions to get rid of the emergency unit.
He said: ‘I can only believe that this was a sad day to get bad news out on a plan that they have always envisaged.’
Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust denied the claim and insisted the closure at Chorley and South Ribble hospital was only temporary as part of wider plans to focus coronavirus treatment on its hospital in Preston instead.
But Sir Lindsay, who was seen talking to Boris Johnson in the Commons last week and is now self-isolating after the Prime Minister tested positive for the virus, added: ‘How does it make sense to concentrate all virus cases in Preston and also expect all other emergency cases to go there too?’
Sir Lindsay Hoyle has hit out at a decision to shut his local A&E, accusing health chiefs of using the coronavirus as cover for the move
He was backed by Tory MPs Nigel Evans and Katherine Fletcher whose constituents use the hospital. The A&E department at Chorley has been downgraded to an urgent care centre.
Ribble Valley MP Mr Evans said ‘to hide behind coronavirus is just despicable’ and called on trust chief executive Karen Partington to resign.
South Ribble MP Ms Fletcher, who has appealed to Health Secretary Matt Hancock to intervene, said: ‘This is a vital local service and I find the approach to this disingenuous at best.
‘Surely maintaining A&E support at Chorley and South Ribble while Preston becomes a key treatment centre for coronavirus cases is absolutely vital.’
However, a report last year concluded the threatened unit, which operates on a part-time basis, was not clinically viable.
Trust chief executive Ms Partington promised that ‘we will make decisions based on recommendations from leading clinicians and heath care’.
The current measures were ‘temporary' and 'all services will be reinstated as soon as possible’.
She also said the move would ‘allow us to harness all our available resources on a single site with the largest intensive care units, in order to better care for our patients'.
‘In addition, it will reduce the risks associated with transporting infectious patients between locations.
‘Diluting our approach would unnecessarily put lives at risk.'
Local campaigners fear the temporary closure now is a ‘backdoor’ plan to shut it down completely.