Taking a Stand on Cheltenham General

As I wrote last week, I strongly object to plans by local NHS managers to move all gastro-intestinal (general) surgery to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Removing such a key specialism from Cheltenham General would undermine its status as a truly ‘acute’ hospital, and reduce wrap-around support for other specialisms.

The Trust did not tell me, or the other affected MPs, in advance about their plans which will go out for consultation next year. The managers argue that there is no link between general surgery and other specialist services, like A&E. But it’s common sense that if a hospital transfers out key expertise, future service changes will be harder to resist.

That’s why I believe we have to take a stand. There’s no point complaining after the event. It’s far more effective to spot challenges coming down the track and tackle them in advance.

So I’ve called on local bosses to think again. I asked them to step up work on alternative proposals, their so-called ‘Option 4’. Option 4 would bring all the county’s elective (ie scheduled, non-urgent) general surgery here to Cheltenham. It would ensure that a critical mass of general surgeons continue to work locally, keeping the ‘general’ in Cheltenham General.

I’m delighted that they have agreed to take this action. Most importantly of all, they have agreed to change tack and back Option 4 if the analysis proves positive. 

One thing should be crystal clear: the Trust confirm that this is nothing to do with money. Significant additional investment is going into the NHS, with an extra £20billion each year being injected by 2023. To put that in context, £20billion is around half the entire schools budget. It means the total NHS spend each year will rise from £125billion to £145billion.

This is not just about Cheltenham. It’s also about Bourton-on-the-Water, Moreton, Stowe and so many other places in Gloucestershire where people look to CGH for hospital care. And it’s why work on an alternative is vital.