When the A&E department at Chorley & South Ribble Hospital closed in April, townspeople were assured it was a temporary measure dictated by staff shortages.
But it now turns out that major changes could be on the cards for the urgent care services at both Chorley and Preston’s hospitals.
Chorley’s A&E has been replaced with an Urgent Care Centre, which can handle minor injuries and is only open during the daytime.
More serious cases are being diverted to Preston or Wigan’s A&E departments.
However the Evening Post can now reveal that a bidding process has been ongoing for some time for the urgent care services.
There will then be a minimum 10-day standstill period to allow the bidders to review the process, before a public announcement is made.
An as-yet unnamed preferred bidder has been selected after the process was discussed behind closed doors with no access allowed for either the media or the public.
Jan Ledward, chief officer of Chorley and South Ribble CCG and Greater Preston CCG, said: “The procurement of an integrated urgent care service has followed a robust process in line with national guidelines.
“This process has identified a preferred bidder, and this decision is being approved by the CCGs’ governing bodies this week, after which the bidders will be informed during the week commencing August 1.
“There will then be a minimum 10-day standstill period to allow the bidders to review the process, before a public announcement is made.
“The integrated urgent care service will ensure that patients receive the most appropriate treatment for their need, and will help free up A&E services for those who really need them.
“Based at the Chorley Hospital and Royal Preston Hospital sites, the service will deliver GP-led urgent care and will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“It will be vital in freeing up the accident and emergency departments for those who really need them.”
The move to open the running of the urgent care centre to private firms has been criticised by campaigners and leading community figures.
Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle said: “I believe that the NHS should be delivered by NHS staff. If we have got something that works well, and services the people well, why change it?”
The trust confirmed that there would be a meeting between the CCG and other hospital partners to discuss the future of the A&E and urgent care services later this week.
A spokesman said it was one of their regular weekly meetings, which have been taking place since the closure in April.
Steve Turner, organiser of the Protect Chorley Hospital from Cuts and Privatisation campaign, was furious the CCG had undergone a bidding process.
He said: “We are absolutely disgusted at the thought of the urgent care centre being privatised because these are our services.”