It is understood that the accident and emergency department at Chorley and South Ribble Hospital is to close for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has been told that staff were informed of the decision to shut the part-time unit this morning.    It is not yet known when the change will be made.

The facility has been operating for 12 hours a day since January 2017.   The 24-hour urgent care centre on the site will remain open.

The focus of the NHS coronavirus response in Central Lancashire will be the Royal Preston Hospital, the region’s major trauma unit.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, the trust which operates both sites, has previously said that it is still struggling to staff the A&E unit at Chorley – the reason that it was closed completely for nine-months during 2016.

But MPs have condemned the closure plan, with Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle – a long-time critic of the trust – describing it as “a disgrace”.

“I’m not aware of any other trust in England that is planning to close an A&E facility while we are dealing with coronavirus.   In fact, everybody else is stepping up services, even with reduced staff.

“If the Royal Preston is to be dealing with coronavirus patients, why not upgrade Chorley to look after other patients?   People will still fall ill with other things, so we should be seeing an upgrade, not a closure,” Sir Lindsay said.

South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher said that, since learning of the proposal earlier this week, she had been working to ensure that it does not come to pass.

“I asked the trust to hold fire and said that I would walk down Victoria Street in London to the Department of Health and ask for whatever was needed [to keep the unit open]

“I’ve had no official confirmation yet that this is going to happen and I’ve been in daily contact with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock about it.

“All of the MPs in the area are working together on this and I have stayed in London, because I think that it’s best place to be able to advocate on behalf of Chorley and South Ribble A&E.”

The LDRS understands that staff were told that the decision was “clinically led”.

It emerged in January that a forthcoming public consultation into the long-term future of the unit was likely to be based on three options – maintaining the status quo or closing the A&E and replacing it with one of two versions of an urgent care centre.

A series of reports by clinicians drafted in to assess the plans – from both within and outside Lancashire – concluded that the current set-up was “not clinically viable” because of staffing levels.

However, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine noted that the Chorley site acts as “a safety valve” for the Royal Preston.

The consultation had been due to begin tjhe summer.

But Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, whose constituency extends into the South Ribble area, said the move was “ludicrous” and came at an “appalling time”.

“The A&E has been botched by management for years, as if they were trying to engineer a facility with no A&E.   It’s what they’ve always wanted – but it’s not what the people want.

“Directing all A&E towards Preston at this time is dangerous – we need to spread the load.   There is no confidence in the team at the top as they drive towards reduced service levels.

“They started with the conclusion and seem intent now on bringing this about.   A clear-out at the top is needed [to] put patients first,” Mr. Evans said.

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has been approached for comment.