A HEALTH watchdog leader has expressed concern that East Lancashire hospitals could be left struggling to cope during the winter.

The warning comes after health bosses were given the smallest share of a £22 million Government windfall to ease the pressures on the NHS in the North West.

East Lancashire Health Authority has been awarded just £500,000 to try and help NHS staff in Blackburn and Burnley cope with the expected influx of emergency admissions during winter. An additional £160,000 has also been allocated to improve intensive care units in Blackburn and Burnley.

The £500,000 is just over two per cent of the total pot of winter pressure cash, awarded where 'it is needed most.' Most other health authorities in the region have been given at least £1 million.

In East Lancashire, £328,000 will be spent on reducing bed blocking - to prevent delays in the discharge of patients - and joint health and social services problems. The other £172,000 will be spent directly on hospitals in Blackburn and Burnley on schemes including the opening of extra beds, recruitment of staff and extra operating theatre and clinic sessions.

Last year, hospitals in Blackburn and Burnley were forced to cancel routine surgery as they struggled to cope with emergency cases.

Nigel Robinson, chief officer of Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Community Health Council, said: "In view of the huge pressures that hospitals faced last year I am surprised at the amount of money allocated.

"Hospitals in East Lancashire received a pasting last year and the situation has not eased during the remainder of this year. I am concerned about the situation and what will happen if we take a battering again.

David Peat, health authority chief executive, said: "Although we are disappointed at the amount of money allocated, we recognise there are broader priorities to be met and that other areas are experiencing far greater problems in the discharge of patients, winter pressures and waiting lists."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.