When it comes to the future of our hospital, I believe elected representatives should put aside their political differences and pull together for the good of the town. And I’m delighted that’s exactly what happened this week. With one voice, Conservative MPs – together with Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem councillors across Gloucestershire – have opposed health bosses’ plans to shift general surgery provision from Cheltenham to Gloucester. And in doing so, they have backed the 58 senior clinicians who have written an unprecedented letter to the Trust challenging the proposals.
Let’s be clear at the outset: what is this not about? First, it’s not about money. The Trust have been clear about that, and in any event 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, this is about where gut surgery specialists should located. Now, you might ask why this matters very much. After all, medics have long since believed in locating centres of excellence on specific sites. No one hospital can do it all. That’s why Gloucestershire’s oncology services for example are centred in Cheltenham, and why gynaecology is centred in Gloucester.
But general surgery matters because it supports other care pathways. General surgeons are the first port of call to stabilise critically ill patients, and can perform procedures including staunching internal bleeding. That’s why the 58 clinicians have written that keeping elective general surgery in Cheltenham would be “the best and safest model” to deliver a centre of advanced surgery for pelvic and abdominal cancers and also a centre for digestive diseases.
So I make no apology for fighting for this.
And this is not just about our town. Whether you live in Lansdown or Lydney, patients across Gloucestershire want to know that the care provided at Cheltenham is the best it can be.
It’s time for the Trust to think again.