The fight for Cheltenham's A&E

I am delighted that local Trust bosses have cancelled the flawed pilot proposal to transfer general surgery (abdominal surgery) from Cheltenham General to Gloucester Hospital. Changing course was the right decision, although it should not have required the threat of legal proceedings to force it.

I make no apology for fighting these proposals tooth and nail, from the moment they were announced in September last year. Shifting such a vital specialism away from Cheltenham would have dealt a hammer blow to CGH’s status as a truly ‘general’ hospital. And although expressed as a pilot, common sense tells you that once rotas are changed and staff redistributed it becomes very difficult to turn the clock back. In effect, Humpty Dumpty can’t be put back together again.

I want to pay particular tribute to the 58 clinicians who took the difficult decision to speak out against the plans. Although the campaign spearheaded by REACH had gathered cross-party support, it was their courage in putting their heads above the parapet that was decisive.

Now the managers needs to go back and do what I was assured last September they would do: work up the alternative (so-called ‘Option 4’) proposal. That would bring all the county’s scheduled, non-urgent general surgery to Cheltenham, boosting care locally. It’s a model that has been adopted successfully elsewhere.

Above all this campaign showed the importance of acting decisively before decisions are set in stone.

We must not rest here. We now need clarity about the future of Cheltenham’s A&E. Ever since night-time cover was removed back in 2013, there has been a cloud hanging over this vital service. It’s high time that cloud was lifted.  

Our night-time nursing staff do a brilliant job, but a hospital serving a town of 115,000 people needs night-time doctor-led A&E cover. The NHS is receiving record funding, and 24/7 cover is essential. The campaigning work goes on.