This week I held talks with the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, about Gloucestershire health bosses’ plans to shift general surgery provision from Cheltenham to Gloucester.
I took the issue to the top after becoming concerned that local health managers may be soft-pedalling on commitments made to me and Laurence Robertson MP at a meeting on 18 September that alternative proposals would be worked up before any reconfiguration went live.
What is the context for all this? Readers may remember that on 12 September local managers announced plans to re-organise general surgery services in Gloucestershire. The announcement took place at the same time as one regarding winter flu arrangements for the county. No prior notification was given to local MPs.
I immediately raised my concerns, because I know from speaking to clinicians that general (ie gut) surgery is a specialism that supports other key care pathways in Cheltenham. General surgeons are the first port of call to stabilise critically ill patients, and can perform procedures including staunching internal bleeding. And in an unprecedented move, 58 clinicians then wrote to the Trust supporting the retention of elective general surgery in Cheltenham, calling it “the best and safest model”.
It is important to be clear that these proposals are not about money. The Trust have been clear about that, and the NHS is getting the largest funding increase in its history – a rise from £122 billion a year today to £149 billion a year in 2023. Second, it’s not about A&E – the Trust have stated there is no “interdependence” between general surgery and the town’s A&E.
Instead, it is about where gut surgery should be located.
But when I wrote to local managers to establish whether the alternative proposals have indeed been worked up as promised, I’m afraid the responses have been studiously vague. That’s why I am arranging an urgent meeting to get clarity. It is essential that the Trust honour the commitments made. Failure to do so would be a breach of faith and may even be open to judicial review.
When it comes to securing the best possible healthcare services for Cheltenham, I believe nothing should be ruled out.