An unusual but potentially powerful campaign against the downgrade of A&E and acute services at Cheltenham Hospital is being led by … the local Chamber of Commerce!

The challenge from this unlikely quarter has been triggered by the launch of Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust of a ‘Fit for the Future’ document which campaigners – and now business leaders warn is misleading. They have analysed the proposals and rewritten the questions it asks, to pose the issues more clearly for local people.

The main concern is plans to remove Cheltenham Hospital’s emergency and inpatient general surgery. 57 consultants and senior doctors at Cheltenham General Hospital have signed a letter stating the move could put patients at risk. Cheltenham General serves a population of at least 200,000 in Cheltenham, Tewkesbury borough and the North Cotswolds.

A cross-party campaign group called REACH (Restore Emergency at CGH Ltd) is opposing the change, and has invited trade unions and campaigners to join in common cause.

It’s chaired by Michael Ratcliffe, who is also Chairman of the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce. He said:

“There has been a serious failure of due process, lack of transparency and lack of consultation. Shifting all major emergency and elective general surgery to GRH would be a grave mistake, and is strongly opposed by many eminent doctors.

“This ‘pilot’ also appears to be a full-blown service delivery change in all but name. So we make no apology for fighting these proposals tooth and nail, on behalf of the people of Gloucestershire and surrounding counties.”

REACH argues that the Fit for the Future plan involves six steps to downgrade Cheltenham General:

1) Downgrade the Accident and Emergency Dept, which would then be replaced by an “Urgent Care Centre”, manned by GPs and not hospital emergency specialists.

2) Transfer all emergency and major inpatient general/bowel surgery from Cheltenham General to Gloucestershire Royal, leaving intermediate and minor day-case surgery only.

3) Move all interventional radiology and vascular services to Gloucestershire Royal

4) Remove out of hours surgical cover for sick patients at Cheltenham’s Oncology Centre.

5) Threaten the future of the pelvic cancer surgery unit at Cheltenham General

6) Isolate the medical gastroenterology unit, which was centralised in Cheltenham General Hospital two years ago.

NHS chiefs insist they do not recognise REACH’s analysis.

The new campaign follows loud complaints by the local Tory MP in early August that the plans meant the town’s A&E unit was to be downgraded, and a call by the Conservative group leader on Cheltenham Borough Council, for an emergency meeting for the full council to back the call for these proposals to be “dropped completely.”

Local NHS bosses paused their “engagement” process for a fortnight in response to these claims, before relaunching its drive to win public acceptance of its plans to create “centres of excellence” … in Gloucester, 10 miles away.

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