Should we trust the Trust? That’s the question that many in Cheltenham have asked me in recent days since we learnt of local Hospital Trust bosses’ plan to suspend Cheltenham’s A&E for three months.
Managers state that the reason for the move is the COVID crisis, and point to the need to clear the backlog of essential treatment for cancer care, hip operations and so on, which they say is made easier by splitting the hospitals into ‘red’ and ‘green’ sites. They certainly don’t suggest it is anything to do with money, given the huge sums that have been invested into the NHS including billions to clear Trusts’ debts.
They have assured me that the move is temporary, and they have promised to honour the undertakings given to me and Matt Hancock last year following a mammoth battle to see off the plans to downgrade the hospital. They have written to me saying that they have “publicly committed to the continuation of a Type 1 Emergency Department at Cheltenham General Hospital” and that “this proposal for temporary change does not detract from that commitment."
I welcome that ironclad commitment.
This suspension is taking effect without the public having any of the normal opportunities to offer views through a consultation. By declaring an emergency measure, all of that has been cast aside – even though at the end of last week there was just one COVID patient in local ICUs.
That’s why I and other MPs wrote to the Trust calling on them to think again.
It would be a misuse of the emergency procedure if COVID were to be used to achieve a pre-existing aim. I trust that that isn't the case. We owe it to future generations living in Cheltenham and beyond to hold hospital bosses to their commitments. I intend to do so.