BOSSES at the Royal Blackburn and Burnley General Hospitals are preparing to ‘protect’ a range of specialist services from closure, in the face of a new national directive.

NHS England wants to slash the number of hospitals prov-iding specialist care from more than 200 to fewer than 30, which ‘poses some significant risks’ to East Lancashire Hopsitals NHS Trust (ELHT).

Head, neck and urological cancer services will all be under threat in coming years, along with some cardiology and paediatric care.

ELHT is even looking to open talks with ‘competitor’ hospitals, such as the Royal Preston, which could involve trade-offs and separate trusts working together to retain a service within Lancashire.

Martin Hodgson, director of service development, said in a report to the ELHT board: “The outcome of the 2014/15 specialist commissioning derogation exercise, and subsequent contr-act discussions, has been pos-itive but, in the next year, work will be undertaken to determine the ‘local’ centres designated to provide head and neck, urological and hepatobilliary cancer surgery, complex gynaecology surgery, HIV services, severe asthma, vascular disease and neonatal critical care.

“It is therefore essential that we protect our current range of specialist services, which will mean working closely with surrounding providers, especially in Lancashire.”

“Certainly there is the need for a concerted dialogue with our nearest neighbour, Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust (which runs the Royal Preston).

“This will also involve Blackpool Foundation Trust, particularly for areas such as cardiology.

“Initial discussions have started, but are yet to reach any conclusion.”

ELHT is especially keen to retain, and improve, its card-iology services, given that East Lancashire has some of the highest rates of heart disease in the country.

NHS England has said ‘difficult decisions’ need to be made to avoid a £30billion black hole in the budget by 2021.

Chairman Sir Malcolm Grant said recently: “We have to rat-ionalise, and that means group-ing specialised services in a smaller number of places.

“We are not doing this for fun.

“But there have to be very good clinical reasons for having a smaller number of institut-ions with better staffing levels, and the technology that allows us to get there.”