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On the 2 June, the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust published plans for temporary service changes, effective from 9 June, that would make Cheltenham General Hospital a COVID-19 free hospital (the “green” hospital), where planned or “elective” surgery and cancer treatment can be restarted, with the treatment of all emergencies and potential COVID-19 cases at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital (the “red” hospital).

This means the closure of Cheltenham General Hospital’s Emergency Department, to be reviewed in three months. Most of these plans are based on sound clinical judgement, quite sensible during the present pandemic. Elective surgery and other treatments for non-COVID-19 patients are long overdue and many of them can no longer wait for treatment.

Attempts have been made in the past to close or reduce the status of the Emergency Department at Cheltenham General Hospital on other grounds. These current proposals do that, leaving only a minor injuries unit open only during the day. What is feared, is that when the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, it will have created a fait accompli and that Cheltenham will never see its fully functional Emergency Department again.

The other concern is that whether Gloucester’s Emergency Department will be able to cope with the increased workload. Already we have seen at times in the past, it has been at full capacity. If they do not eventually reverse this temporary arrangement, patients could be at risk. Many people and campaign organisations such as REACH, have actively opposed the closure of Cheltenham’s Emergency Department and the move of services from Cheltenham to Gloucester.

Just before the General Election, Alex Chalk MP was assured by Matt Hancock, the Health and Social Care Secretary, that this would not happen. We must remind the Trust that “temporary” is “temporary”. The Labour Party stands fully behind these demands and commits itself to working with others to achieve them.

Professor Robert Arnott, who lives in Cheltenham, is a Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford and Secretary of Cheltenham Labour Party

Contact Professor Arnott on robert.arnott@gtc.ox.ac.uk

(Appeared in Gloucestershire Echo, 11 June 2020, p.13)

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