A document has been made public which casts serious doubt on the local NHS hospitals trust’s reassuring words about the future of Cheltenham Hospital A&E.
The document – drawn up by surgeons within Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal Hospitals – was aimed at developing a long-term plan for all the different surgical specialties. It contains a suggestion that emergency surgery should be taken from Cheltenham and centralised in Gloucester.
Cllr Paul Hodgkinson, Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for the Cotswolds, has campaigned to reverse the change to Cheltenham’s A&E and is very concerned about the impact of this latest proposal on Cotswolds residents:
“Some of the proposals are uncontroversial – no-one minds travelling a few miles for planned surgery if that means they get the best treatment. But there are some services which you need to reach in a hurry and where, in an emergency, every second could counts. So the fact that emergency surgery was included in the list of specialties that might be centralised is worrying. Many people in the Cotswolds rely on Cheltenham as their nearest hospital.
“Major trauma emergency cases – road accidents for instance – already go to Gloucestershire Royal and the hospital’s trust decided in July that overnight blue light ambulance admissions would also go to Gloucester and not to Cheltenham. The trust said this was because recruitment problems had made it impossible to fully staff two A&Es 24 hours a day. But the fear was that all ambulance admissions would soon follow and that Cotswolds patients who go to Cheltenham would be faced with a hospital with little more than a minor injuries unit. Clinical research shows that, in an emergency like a severe asthma attack, the extra 8 miles would probably make a critical difference in a significant number of cases.
Liberal Democrat councillors on the local Health & Wellbeing Board called for a rethink in the plans earlier this year but were outvoted by Conservative councillors. Cotswold Tory MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said he would prefer one A&E department and hoped Gloucester’s would be enhanced.
At the time the trust said there were no plans to close Cheltenham’s A&E but the surgeons’ document raises the prospect of emergency surgery being centralised in Gloucester, in which case Cheltenham A&E would have to close.
“We really need to know what the trust management are up to,” said Paul. “What is the plan? Are they taking this document seriously and contemplating the closure of Cheltenham’s A&E, even though they told us the opposite? Are they committed to restoring two full A&E departments if they can? Or are they going to revive the old plan for one new hospital half way between Cheltenham and Gloucester?
“We need a well-informed but open debate, including Cotswolds residents, as soon as possible.”