My letter to Deborah Lee, Chief Executive of Gloucerstershire CCG, on securing the future of Cheltenham General Hospital.
I write out of concern for the future of Cheltenham General Hospital, following the announcement last week of proposed further service downgrades.
As you will know, reaction to the proposals concerning the transfer of GI surgery to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital has been mixed. Cheltenham people are already on a state of high alert due to previous changes, but had been reassured by the Trust and local representatives that there would be no further downgrades. Indeed, when our MP took his seat, he reassured people that there would be no further downgrades. The latest announcement of a fresh consultation suggests otherwise.
Many people think that the trajectory in health services in Cheltenham is towards an urgent care facility or minor injuries unit instead of an A&E. The removal of further emergency procedures from the town’s hospital will do little to change people’s minds. People in Cheltenham tell me that they would prefer a fully functioning 24/7 A&E service.
There are four issues on which I would be grateful for your response, relating to both national and local matters raised by various outlets, people and organisations. I raise these out of curiosity and concern, because they are clearly matters on which it seems we (the public) are being told one version of events, while the reality seems to be quite different.
Firstly, we are told by our local Conservative MP that an extra £20billion will be invested in the NHS nationally by 2023, which will lead to improved services locally. However, the reality seems to be that fewer services are being delivered in Cheltenham. If this money is to lead to improvements locally, why can the Trust not work towards at least maintaining Cheltenham’s services at the current level? Can you confirm that these proposals are not a stepping stone towards a further cut in the level of service or the hours of operation at Cheltenham General Hospital’s A&E department?
Secondly, we were told in March that a total of £40million is being invested across Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal hospitals. Does this investment facilitate the proposals due to go out for consultation?
Thirdly, we are told that the downgrades are necessary due to a shortage of available staff and that at national level there are more than 100,000 vacancies. What is the level of clinical vacancies at the Trust today (27 September) and how does that compare to a year ago?
Finally, we must assume that these proposals were not arrived upon in haste. Therefore, please could you confirm whether the details of further service changes at Cheltenham General Hospital were discussed when you met Jeremy Hunt, then Health Secretary, in Gloucester last November?
As you know from our exchanges at the Cheltenham Borough Council briefing last year, local representatives in the town are keen to play an active role in discussions around the future of hospital. I hope you will receive and treat this letter in that spirit.
Councillor Max Wilkinson
Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham