This week local hospital managers published their “Fit for the Future” blueprint for the future of health services in Gloucestershire – including for A&E. They claim that this is purely an “engagement exercise” with the public to gather ideas, and that no firm decisions have been made about A&E at Cheltenham.
I’m afraid I, the MPs for the Cotswolds and Tewkesbury, and thousands of people in Cheltenham are intensely sceptical. The evidence to suggest that there is a plan to close A&E is compelling. First, there was the leaked email earlier this year from senior managers which stated that they did not support the “fudge” of A&E continuing and wanted it replaced with a downgraded provision. Second, this “engagement” on such a crucial issue was originally scheduled to last from 5 August to 2 September, when Parliament isn’t sitting and many people will be away or on holiday. How can a genuine ideas-gathering exercise credibly be carried out in that time?
Third, the language of the document itself tells its own story. Pages 18 and 19, which address the issue of future A&E, state that managers are committed to “local access” to services “where it can be delivered without compromising on the quality of care” before going on to say ominously “However, if you have a life and limb threatening illness or injury that needs a 999 response, evidence suggests you have the best chances of survival and good recovery if you receive treatment in a centre with the right staff expertise, facilities and equipment.” The implications for Cheltenham A&E, which has already had night-time A&E cut back, are clear.
Interestingly, the language of the document has been changed after the furore earlier this month to seek to downplay any suggestion that they’ve already made their minds up. So instead of saying “Our ideas for the next two years” it now says simply “Ideas for the next two years”.
Since this whole issue broke I have been overwhelmed with stories of lives saved by the brilliant clinicians at Cheltenham’s A&E. They have been powerful and moving. They’re why we need to fight to save our A&E.