Late last week I discovered that local NHS Trust managers were briefing others on plans to downgrade the A&E at Cheltenham General Hospital. They wanted to put their proposals out for a four week 'engagement', slap bang in the middle of August whilst Parliament wasn't sitting and many were on holiday.
I was absolutely furious and immediately contacted the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who also had not been informed and expressed his surprise.
Rumours have circulated about health bosses’ plans for Cheltenham's A&E since 2013, before I was elected, when night-time services were shifted to Gloucestershire Royal. But when I have challenged managers, time and again they have denied that this was their plan – claiming that it was “scaremongering” and that they could “foresee no scenario” when this might happen. Those assurances were hollow.
I have always said that further cuts to Cheltenham A&E would be completely unacceptable, not just for people in Cheltenham, but for those living right across the north and east of our county. GRH also doesn't have capacity, as a local doctor wrote on Twitter this week.
It is a particular betrayal because I supported our local NHS in their campaign for more funding – helping to secure a settlement that will see cash to the NHS go up from £122bn a year to £149bn a year by 2023. Here in Gloucestershire the Trust has been awarded a capital grant of £39m plus an additional £10m which I personally helped to unlock. That has helped to fund a state-of-the-art new operating theatre, as well as two new cancer radiotherapy machines.
Since I contacted the Health Secretary and took to social and mainstream media, the Trust has started to row back from the proposal, agreeing to “temporarily pause the next stage of the engagement process.” That’s welcome, but they now need to go further and scrap the plans.
I am so grateful to the many thousands of people who have already contacted me to sign my petition and support the campaign, including the MPs for the Cotswolds and Tewkesbury. Do go to my Facebook page (@alexchalkchelt) to add your name.