I am deeply concerned by the loss of the 24-hour A&E facility at Cheltenham General Hospital. Despite reassurances I have personally received from senior clinicians, this marks in my view an overall downgrade in the quality of medical care available to the people of Cheltenham.
We all know the reasons for it – namely the national shortage of doctors who are willing to work in A&E. National recommendations state that there should be a minimum of ten Emergency Medicine Consultants per site to achieve safe care. The stark fact is that there are just eleven working across both CGH and Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. It seems extraordinary that the situation was allowed to deteriorate to this extent without warning bells sounding earlier.
But we are where we are. This decision has now been made, and there is no point in being alarmist about the situation. We have to place our trust in the medical professionals (including the National Clinical Advisory Team who visited CGH in May 2013) who appear unanimous in their view that patient outcomes will be improved.
But let me be crystal clear: I want to see a 24-hour service restored in Cheltenham, fully-staffed and fully-resourced. The hospital trust needs to demonstrate to people in Cheltenham that it is working towards that goal with concrete plans that the public can trust. In the meantime I will be keeping a close eye on the data coming out of A&E to check that promises of better patient outcomes are being kept.