PLANS to end vascular services at Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) have been challenged at an appeal hearing.

Regional NHS managers decided to focus services for Cumbria and Lancashire and parts of Greater Manchester and Southwest Scotland at centres in Preston, Blackburn and Carlisle.

But local campaigners claimed this would leave residents of south Cumbria and Lancashire at a disadvantage, with travel times for many people being extended byond the Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland’s recommendation of 60 minutes.

The appeal, lodged by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT), which runs the RLI, was heard by NHS Commissioners on Friday. The NHS decision, which prompted fears over patient safety, led to an e-petition by Ambleside and Grasmere councillor Heidi Halliday.

Coun Halliday pointed out the RLI unit’s regional and national reputation and contribution to international research and development and her petition has garnered hundreds of signatures.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron, who had raised the issue in the House of Commons through an Early Day Motion, said: “I have long argued that the proposal to strip the Royal Lancaster Infirmary of its vascular services unit constitutes a real danger to patients’ safety and in many cases their lives.

“I fervently hope that the panel will pay heed to the grave concerns raised by local people and by UHMBT, and overturn what would otherwise be an extremely damaging decision.”