CAMPAIGNERS have called for local urgent care centres to be used more after new research claimed that patient deaths increase by 20 per cent for every 10 miles travelled in ambulances.

Burnley’s A&E department was controversially downgraded to an Urgent Care Centre (UCC) in November 2007, when blue light cases were transferred to Royal Blackburn Hospital – 16.8 miles away.

Now Professor Jon Nicholl, dean of the school of health and related research at Sheffield University, has claimed that patient deaths go up 20 per cent for every 10 miles travelled on the road.

He has studied 10,000 999 calls where life was in danger, and said the extra deaths were concentrated around respiratory conditions.

But East Lancashire Hospital NHS Trust (ELHT) bosses have said that the arrangement since 2007 has lead to ‘significant improvements’ for conditions such as hip fractures, stroke, heart attacks and also mortality.

Ian Woolley, former ELHT chairman and health campaigner, said: “I am concerned that unnecessary travel needs to be kept to a minimum.

“The findings of Prof Nicholl don’t exactly fit with East Lancashire, as Burnley has an Urgent Care Centre doing some A&E work, but I think that it serves as a warning.

“We need to make sure that as much A&E work is done in Burnley as possible.”

Rineke Schram, medical director at ELHT, said: “We agree with Prof Nicholl that for a large number of emergency patients a local emergency service is best, which is why we have UCC services at both Burnley and Blackburn.

“UCC provide treatment for minor illnesses and injuries that require urgent attention but that are not critical or life-threatening.

“These are the problems the large majority of patients attend our emergency services for.

“As Prof Nicholl states, for the minority of serious emergencies, better outcomes can be achieved in bigger specialised centres and the Emergency Department in East Lancashire has now been centralised at Royal Blackburn Hospital for the past five years, providing excellent standards of emergency care.”

Fears that Chorley hospital’s A&E department is to close, and patients redirected to the Royal Preston Hospital, have also been dismissed.

Chief executive of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Karen Partington, said: “We have no plans to close the emergency department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital.”