A PETITION has been launched by an MP in opposition to Government proposals that could see two major hospitals which serve Cumbria merged into a single site.

A £3.7 billion package, announced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DoHSC), includes the planned replacement of the Royal Preston Hospital and the Royal Lancaster Infirmary (RLI) with ‘either a single or two hospitals’, subject to consultation.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron has slammed the suggestion, fearing any merged hospital could be located even further away from the RLI - the nearest accident and emergency department for much of South Lakeland.

He says this element of the DoHSC’s announcement came ‘without warning’ and that even local health bosses appear to have been taken by surprise. He has now launched a petition calling on the Government to drop this proposal from its hospital-building programme.

Mr Farron said: “Residents here in the South Lakes already have to travel some of the longest distances for hospital treatment in England – and in an emergency the nearest A&E department for much of the area is in Lancaster.

“Be in no doubt - we will fight tooth and nail to stop the Government moving services even further away.

“I would strongly encourage everyone who cares about this to join our campaign and sign the petition today.”

The Westmorland Gazette approached both the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust and the Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to ask them if health bosses had been taken by ‘surprise’ by the announcement, and for an opinion on the hospital-building proposals more generally, but received no response.

The DoHSC, which made the initial announcement, was approached for more information about the hospital ‘merger’ proposals.

However, a DoHSC spokesman said this was a ‘local process’ and it was best to contact the relevant hospital trusts.

After confirming multi-billion-pound funding for the construction of 40 new hospitals, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The dedication and tireless efforts of our nurses, doctors and all healthcare workers have kept the NHS open throughout this pandemic.

“But no matter what this virus throws at us, we are determined to ‘build back better’ and deliver the biggest hospital-building programme in a generation.”