Ten years on from the closure of Burnley’s A&E department, East Lancashire Hospital Trust’s top boss has categorically ruled out any chance of it reopening.
Despite increasing strain on the NHS, Chief Executive Kevin McGee believes closing the accident and emergency department in November 2007 was the right decision and to reopen it now would only bring added pressure.
In an interview with chairman of East Lancashire’s Patient Voices Group Russ McLean before Christmas, Mr McGee was asked for his thoughts on the inference that things would be better if the A&E department was to be reopened.
“That is not the case. The first thing to recognise is that we have a good urgent care centre on the Burnley site. We are very proud of this. Most of the people who previously would have gone to the A&E site can still go to the urgent care centre on the Burnley site.
“There is only a small number of people, basically people who would have accessed that unit through a blue light ambulance that get transferred to the Blackburn site. Most patients are still seen on the Burnley site.
“But the issue we’re facing in terms of the [A&E] department is one the physical space and more importantly, it’s just having the appropriate number of doctors and nurses.
“There is a national shortage of doctors and nurses in A&E departments and urgent care centres and we struggle with that.
“So, if I had to split some of the A&E consultants more widely rather than concentrating them mainly on the Blackburn site I would have more of a problem in terms of how I keep the department safe and look after the patients safely.
“So it is absolutely not the right call to reopen the full A&E department on the Burnley site. But what it is, is that we can continue to invest in services on the Burnley site, we continue to put services around the urgent care service and we try and signpost patients appropriately who can go to Burnley to go there because we still get people turning up at the Blackburn site who could have been more appropriately seen at Burnley.”
Mr McGee said Blackburn’s A&E department was the busiest in the North-West but steps were being taken to help relieve pressure.
“A&E departments in the country are under pressure. We happen to be the busiest A&E department in the North-West by someway.
“We only have so much capacity. We have approximately room for about 28 patients at any one time. That can be flexed, but around about 28.
“And on many occasions we have in the department 50 patients plus.
“That inevitably means there is going to be a wait for some of the cubicles. But what we do – always – is that when patients do have to wait; patients may be on a corridor which is not how we want it and it is unacceptable.
“Those patients are still well looked. We have staffing on hand to look after those patients, we have people providing drinks and nutrition to the patients and their relatives and so even when people are not in cubicles, they are being looked after and cared for and then when we get them into the cubicles they can have the appropriate clinical care and treatment.”
Longer term solutions have included the opening of a respiratory assessment unit to transfer people away from A&E while Mr McGee said £11m. was also being invested to increase capacity of the emergency department and the urgent care centre on the Blackburn site.
“We are currently working up the scheme. There is obviously a big capital build involved.
“That will give us the additional capacity and physical size of unit that we currently struggle with.”