With the Prime Minister’s announcement of England’s roadmap to exit lockdown, it’s time for hospital managers here in Gloucestershire to set a date for reopening Cheltenham’s A&E.
I have today spoken to the senior leadership this week to press for such an announcement.
Cheltenham’s A&E was suspended in June last year by the Trust using emergency powers to help the local NHS fight COVID. This created a ‘red’ COVID hospital at GRH and a ‘green’ non-COVID site at CGH to continue with the business-as-usual work.
I and others made clear at the time that, after the enormous 2019 campaign in Cheltenham to save our A&E, COVID could not be the pretext for a quiet downgrade. That led to cast-iron written assurances from local managers to me that A&E would be reopening.
It is no criticism of Gloucester’s dedicated medical teams, but GRH doesn’t have capacity for the entire county. We have seen just recently how quickly GRH can be overwhelmed, with ambulances queuing outside or having to be diverted.
Now, after a dreadful period when our hospitals were under intense strain, the figures are moving in the right direction. As at 19 February 2021, there were around 60 COVID-positive patients across both sites. This is well below the 200+ winter peak, and means that hospital areas that were previously ‘red’ can increasingly be turned into ‘green’ non-COVID areas.
Meanwhile, the vaccination programme continues to proceed at pace, and there are signs that hospitalisation rates for the over-70s are dropping.
With 18 million people already vaccinated and more being offered the jab every day, we will get all children back into schools from 8 March. If positive progress continues, further unlocking for Cheltenham’s shops, hairdressers, gyms, pubs and others is scheduled to follow.
So although caution must be our watchword, the time has come to set a date for a precious local resource to re-open too. Whether you live in Moreton-in-Marsh or Leckhampton, Gloucestershire needs Cheltenham A&E back up and running at the earliest opportunity.