This week I called in Parliament for local health bosses to abandon their plans to shift gastro-intestinal (general) surgery from Cheltenham General to Gloucester Royal Hospital.
As regular readers of the Echo will know, this is something I have opposed from the off. And I’m delighted that 58 eminent local clinicians, as well as other MPs and councillors of all stripes, recently added their voices to the campaign.
I oppose the plans because general surgeons are the hallmark of a truly ‘general’ hospital like CGH. They are the first port of call to stabilise critically ill patients and their expertise underpins the best and safest model to deliver a whole range of specialised treatments.
But another key reason to challenge the plans is their potential impact on the future of the town’s A&E. The Trust state that there is no ‘interdependence’ between the future of general surgery and that of A&E. But some have called this into question, and see these plans as the thin end of the wedge.
Cheltenham lost doctor-led night time A&E services back in 2013, before I became the town’s MP. Before then we lost Battledown Children’s Ward and the doctor-led maternity service.
The Trust’s argument in 2013 was that it was difficult to recruit and retain middle-grade emergency doctors. That remains their stance now. But that was the argument of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust who wanted to suspend overnight A&E at Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. And yet just this week, Shrewsbury abandoned the plans, as it seems they can now fill the rota.
Why can’t the same be done in Cheltenham? Our night-time nursing staff do a brilliant job, but a hospital serving a town of 115,000 people and many thousands more in the Cotswolds needs nighttime doctor-led A&E cover.
I believe in fighting to keep Cheltenham as a truly ‘acute’ hospital. General surgery is in the front line of that fight.