Liberal Democrat MPs have now represented Cheltenham for 23 years. In that time, despite unprecedented public money being poured into the NHS, the reality is that Cheltenham General Hospital has got worse, not better. Just a quick re-cap: in 2005, in-patient services at Battledown Children’s Ward were lost to Gloucester. Doctor-led maternity services soon followed. Paediatrics have now gone. And then, to top it all off A&E was downgraded. The bottom line is that for too long the Lib Dems have failed to ensure that Cheltenham General gets its fair share.
The effect of that latest blow is now plain for all to see. It’s no coincidence, you may think, that it was the Gloucestershire hospitals that were the first to declare a major incident in the A&E departments this week. I speak to medics regularly and they tell me that the Trust’s decision to downgrade Cheltenham’s A&E has put increased pressure on Cheltenham General. It creates a backlog at Gloucester at night, which staff over here then battle to unwind during the day.
The Liberal Democrats did precious little to stop this happening. All we saw was a pointless petition after the decision had been made. And that’s the stark reality: the Lib Dems are good at photo opportunities, but not at getting results. In the last eight years, the principal parliamentary achievement of the current Lib Dem MP, Martin Horwood, has been to set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on Tribal Peoples. That’s fine, and I’m sure we all wish tribal peoples well. But it’s surprising that our MP should be focusing on that when there are bigger problems closer to home.
The coming year is going to be crucial for our hospital. As I have warned repeatedly, I think it likely that after the General Election the Trust will seek to remove emergency general surgery from Cheltenham altogether. That will effectively mean the end of Cheltenham as an acute hospital. Despite these warnings, the Lib Dems have done the square root of nothing to raise this as an issue. If they get back in, expect another pointless petition and another photo opp. Cheltenham deserves better.