Today, the Conservative candidate in this election has asked me to “set the record straight” on Cheltenham’s health services. I am, of course, very happy to do so. It is incredibly important in this election – when trust in politicians is at such a low mark – that we are honest and as your Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate, I am absolutely committed to sharing the whole truth with you. That is the very minimum of what you deserve from your elected representatives.
The facts are as follows.
Fact 1: There is no long-term guarantee that Cheltenham’s A&E will not be downgraded in the future
Local campaign groups have done a fantastic job fighting to save Cheltenham’s A&E, and have made huge progress to protect our vital services for now. But the Hospitals Trust has not given a long-term guarantee that our town will keep its Type 1 A&E Department. The Conservative Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has said “the A&E will remain open and no proposals to close the A&E in Cheltenham will be part of the forthcoming consultation” but did not provide reassurance about the possibility of a downgrade of services.
More recently, when your Liberal Democrat Councillors asked health bosses precisely what assurances were given to the Conservative Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that meant he could announce relief for Cheltenham’s A&E, health bosses would not give a response.
Fact 2: Other health services in Cheltenham are still at risk of downgrade
The review into urgent and hospital care in Gloucestershire is wider than just the services provided by A&E departments. The “Fit for the Future” review is anticipated to report back in the New Year, after the election. There is no guarantee that this will not mean downgrade of other health services, given the financial strain the NHS is under after years of underfunding by the Conservatives.
Fact 3: The Conservative candidate has not delivered a 24/7 A&E service
In 2015, the Conservative candidate for Cheltenham was elected on a promise that he had a plan to restore a full 24/7 A&E service in Cheltenham. This plan has not been delivered, and residents seeking children’s and maternity emergency services out of hours still have to travel to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. Instead, our town’s residents have had to fight against downgrading of services at our A&E – quite the opposite of restoring full 24/7 services at our A&E.
Fact 4: Under Conservative plans, the risk to our NHS is here to stay
The independent King’s Fund health think tank has stated that the Conservative’s NHS funding deal “is not enough to simultaneously restore performance against key waiting times standards and transform services to deliver better care”, while the independent fiscal body the IFS has stated that the Conservatives “have failed to set out complete plans for wider health spending over the entire four year period” and have “omitted any plan for social care”. Conservative spending plans do not add up, and their Brexit plans will cost the economy and therefore add to rather than reduce pressure on the NHS.
Fact 5: A vote for the Liberal Democrats is a vote for a fully costed funding plan for the NHS
The Liberal Democrats would put a penny on the pound in income tax to make up the ongoing funding shortfall in our health services – a total investment of £35billion over 5 years, and more than the Conservatives are promising for our health services. We would also end the GP shortfall by 2025 by both training more GPs and making greater appropriate use of nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists, and also phone or video appointments, where clinically suitable. As well as planning to reform the Health and Social Care Act as recommended by the NHS, to make the NHS work in a more efficient and joined-up way, and to end the automatic tendering of services.
Friends, our politics should be better than this. I know from speaking to our doctors, nurses, mental health and social care professionals that the last thing they want is politicisation of our NHS. But our local health trust has been silenced by the election. As your parliamentary candidate, I will keep speaking out to ensure the whole truth of the risk to our NHS services is heard.
I hope this has indeed set the record straight. I am always happy to answer any further questions from Cheltenham residents.
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Cheltenham