BURNLEY General Hospital is to lose its blue light A&E services a year early in a shock move.

The leader of Burnley Council Gordon Birtwistle has branded the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust "a law unto itself" after it was announced the controversial shutdown was being brought forward from late 2008.

Campaigners had fought to prevent the trust stripping Burnley General of its capability to handle blue light emergencies.

But the decision to send all of East Lancashire's emergencies to Royal Blackburn Hospital was still approved.

And this week it was announced the changes were in line to be made by December next year along with other major service closures.

Health bosses have made the decision because they wanted to "realise the benefits to patient care" more quickly.

But Coun Birtwistle, who fought the plans, said he saw it as a further sign of bosses' "indifference" to public opinion.

He said: "They are a law unto themselves.

"I think the word patient care is an insult to the patient because it isn't patient care.

"People will be upset and devastated.

"But most people have accepted by now that we have lost the campaign and the services will be moved to Blackburn."

John Amos, vice-chairman of the Patient and Public Involvement watchdog which oversees the trust, said he was "taken aback" by the news.

He said: "A lot of work needs to be done and I would hate to think that this is going to be rushed through without proper planning."

The changes will see the most serious emergencies, about 13 per cent, taken to the new £113 million Royal Blackburn Hospital instead of Burnley.

Burnley General is to also lose overnight children's care - but will take on more births and planned operations currently seen in Blackburn.

Joe Gibson, who is leading the project, said: "We have always made clear that to make the scale of change necessary to fully implement the new service model will be a two to three year project.

"However, this has to balanced against the fact that we want to realise the benefits to patient care that we outlined in the consultation document as soon as the changes necessary can be reasonably made."

He said by December next year "we hope to have established Burnley General Hospital as the centre for most planned in-patient services and Royal Blackburn Hospital as the centre for emergency in-patient care".