A WAR of words has erupted between Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle, health campaigners and Labour representatives after Mr Birtwistle was accused of misleading the public over the future of Burnley General Hospital.
The row centres on a bid for £9m. of Government funding to upgrade the hospital’s urgent care centre and relocate it within the hospital.
In December, the Express revealed East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust had submitted an application to the Department of Health for the funding. But health chiefs stressed the improvements would not mean a full return to the Accident and Emergency department it had before “blue light” emergency services were moved to the Royal Blackburn Hospital under the controversial Meeting Patients’ Needs programme.
Leader of Burnley’s Labour group Coun Julie Cooper accused Mr Birtwistle of misleading voters by claiming there would be a return of emergency hospital services to Burnley.
“The health chiefs which included GPs, primary care trust and the acute trust were crystal clear there will be no return of accident and emergency to Burnley,” she said. “For the local MP to mislead the public is not only dishonest but highly irresponsible.”
Former chairman of Burnley NHS Trust Mr Azhar Ali called for the MP to make a public apology.
“I can understand MPs like Gordon Birtwistle and Andrew Stephenson – who owe their positions in large part to their promises to bring a full ‘blue light’ service back to Burnley – are desperate to be seen to be doing something.
“However, this political spinning of an already planned development shows the depth to which the Lib-Dem MP will sink to.
“He should do the decent thing and make an unconditional public apology to the people of Burnley and Pendle for what is clear deception and lies.”
Former Burnley MP Peter Pike said: “The people of Burnley and Pendle should not be conned by ‘flash Gordon’s’ announcement because he continues to break his pledges.”
But, hitting back, Mr Birtwistle said he would continue to fight for hospital services in Burnley.
He said: “The local Labour party have no right to comment on the hospital, as it was under their watch that such vital services were relocated to Blackburn.
“Neither Kitty Ussher nor Gordon Prentice raised any arguments with the Labour Government at the time to fight for the hospital services to remain in Burnley.
“I am surprised Azhar Ali has so much to say about the A&E now, as when he was chairman of Burnley NHS Trust he had very little to say on the reduction in services at our beloved hospital.
“I have fought tooth and nail for the hospital, I will continue to do so and I will not apologise for the dogged determination with which I campaign for local hospital services. It is the Labour Party who need to apologise for letting our hospital services go and for doing nothing since to secure any improvements to local health care.
“For me the issue is not about what the unit is called be it A&E, urgent care centre or something else.
“Instead the issue is about the amount, and quality of services on offer at the hospital.
“With this investment Burnley will be able to treat far more people and discussions are taking place on the extent of services which will be available in the new centre.
“In the past year we have seen the return of 50% of ambulances to Burnley. I am confident that with investment in the hospital and continued pressure on a local and national level, we can see even more ambulances, and services, returning to Burnley General.”
The Trust said it was still waiting to hear whether the funding bid had been a success.
Mrs Lynn Wissett, deputy chief executive, said: “We would like to reiterate that the planned development of the urgent care centre on the Burnley General Hospital site is purely a relocation of the existing urgent care service provision with improvements to the environment and facilities.”