BURNLEY General Hospital staff are ‘horrified’ at cuts to the casualty department which will leave nurses in charge during the night, according to union bosses.

Despite pledges to upgrade the Urgent Care Centre, from today a specialist A&E doctor will no longer be on site between 2am and 8am.

Instead the casualty department will be run by nurses who will be able to call on the help of an on-site family doctor who union officials said had not worked in an A&E environment for 15 years.

It comes less than three months after an independent review demanded 23 improvements, many of which would see the department upgraded.

Union chiefs said nurses and health workers were ‘horrified’ at the prospect of being responsible for dealing with emergencies, without being able to call upon the expertise of a fully-qualified hospital doctor.

Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle said the trust had a 'war on its hands' over the 'diabolical' move, but he was facing criticism that cuts from his party's coalition Government were to blame.

Health bosses said the changes were 'tailored to the needs of patients', indicating 2am till 8am was a quieter period.

Prior to today’s change, between 2am and 8am the centre was manned by nurses, with support from a registrar who would normally have had between five and six years of medical training at university, on top of around five years experience in an A&E department.

Tim Ellis, regional officer for UNISON North West, said nurses were not qualified to deal with emergencies alongside a GP.

For instance, he said any member of staff other than a doctor with vast hospital-based experience would struggle to determine whether someone was suffering from an aneurysm or a concussion, which require completely different treatments.

As a result a large number of patients would have to be taken to Royal Blackburn Hospital for specialist care, Mr Ellis said.

He continued: “UNISON and health workers are horrified at this practice.

“It is a breach of the state proposals of the NHS that they will upgrade blue light provision in Burnley.

“The proposals occurred because the trust is required by the coalition Government to reduce costs by 10 per cent.

"This is a breach of faith by both the coalition and the local MP Gordon Birtwistle who is a member of that Government.

“It is also a breach of the trust to the people of Burnley and East Lancashire.

“We will be working to raise action with the trust and the MP.”

Mr Birtwistle refuted claims he had not done enough to prevent the action, saying he had not been made privy to the decision.

He said: “This is diabolical. There has never been any suggestion that there would not be a fully-qualified doctor on site.

“I will take this up with the chief executive of the trust immediately to ensure they deliver what they are supposed to deliver and what the secretary of state told them to deliver - a decent Urgent Care Centre to serve the people of Burnley.

“If they are going to pull this stunt now they will have a war on their hands.

"They cannot and will not be allowed to get away with it.

“I will take it to the secretary of state on Monday.”

Burnley General's accident and emergency department was closed in 2007, with all 999 cases sent to the Royal Blackburn.

Earlier this year an independent review of that decision was commissioned by NHS North West.

It found the move was justified, but said Burnley's Urgent Care Unit was being under-used.

The review made 23 recommendations to improve matters, including the return of ambulances to Burnley General in less serious cases.

But former Burnley MP Peter Pike, who had campaigned for the review with former hospitals trust chairman Ian Wooley, said the latest move was against what the inquiry outlined.

He said: "A lot of questions arise as to what a GP on site actually means.

“People do still have accidents between 2am and 8am, so this is not good enough.”

In a statement, Dr Mike Ions, chair of the GPs professional executive committee at NHS East Lancashire and Dr Charles Thomson, clinical director for emergency care at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust said the changes were in line with recommendations following the review.

They said: ”The level and mix of staffing must be tailored to the needs of patients presenting over the 24-hour period. Between the hours of 2am and 8am, a fully-qualified GP will be present at the Burnley Urgent Care Centre, supported by nurses.”