A SENIOR consultant said Blackburn used to have ‘one of the best hospitals in the north west’, but has suffered from a lack of stable leadership in recent years.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the Royal Blackburn and Burnley hospitals, is currently in special measures after NHS inspectors made wide-ranging criticisms of the way it had been run over several years.

Rob Watson, who heads up the hospital’s well-regarded surgical triage unit, also said former chief executive Jo Stubbins had been given an ‘impossible task’ of joining hospital services in Blackburn and Burnley in 2006.

He told board members the merger had ‘consequences on the delivery of healthcare’, as the closure of the emergency ward at Burnley meant more patients flooded to Blackburn’s new ‘hospital on the hill’, which replaced the old Royal Infirmary.

Blackburn’s surgical department soon became the busiest in the north west and served ‘one of the sickest populations’, while ‘nine chief executives in the last 11 years’ added to the trust’s difficulties, he said.

The surgical triage unit was set up in 2009 to combat these problems, to fast track surgical patients through the emergency department and avoid delays, Mr Watson said.

The unit was one of the areas praised in last year’s Keogh Report, which made largely damning criticisms of ELHT and persuaded ministers to place the trust in special measures.

Jim Birrell, interim chief executive at ELHT, said: “Mr Watson’s comments during the trust board were to express his personal opinions with regards to the success of the surgical triage unit, a service which wouldn’t have been possible without the reconfiguration and merger of acute services in East Lancashire.

“Mr Watson is rightfully proud of the surgical triage unit, which has been praised and copied as an example of how to provide quality urgent and emergency surgical care.”

“[The] reconfiguration aimed to improve patient care by the redesign of some clinical services with all emergency work being carried out at the Royal Blackburn Hospital site to ensure a safe, sustainable and highly skilled emergency department and an increase in access to elective surgery on the Burnley General Hospital site.”