Martin led the campaign to maintain a full 24 hour A&E at Cheltenham General – one of his many campaigns for local health services – and repeatedly won assurances from Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust that Cheltenham A&E would not close. Martin believes Cheltenham A&E has been under threat since acute services began to be centralised in Gloucester in 2006 and will keep campaigning against the drip-drip downgrade at Cheltenham. He was the only local MP and the only Cheltenham politician to present evidence against the decision to downgrade Cheltenham A&E at night in 2013 when the decision was actually taken. Current MP Alex Chalk – then the Conservative candidate – and Cotswolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown both missed the meeting. You can still sign Martin’s petition calling for a rethink of that decision here.
Back in 2006 Martin led the campaign which successfully saved Cheltenham maternity ward and warned that centralisation of acute services like neonatal intensive care posed a long-term threat to a full-service A&E at Cheltenham. Martin has always believed that a town of nearly 120,000 people needs key services like maternity and A&E in its own district general hospital and was concerned at the drip-drip-drip shift in services to Gloucester. In 2011 children’s emergency assessments shifted to Gloucester and in 2012 Gloucester was chosen as the county’s centre for major trauma care (such as serious motorway accidents) but still we were told A&E was safe.
Then in 2013, in the middle of an an NHS reorganisation, Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust suddenly asked for Cheltenham A&E to be downgraded at night with ambulance admissions going to Gloucester.
The trust claimed this was because they hadn’t been able to recruit the 20 consultants needed to fully staff two full A&E departments in Cheltenham and Gloucester and it would be safer to downgrade Cheltenham. In fact, it’s now clear that they had never really tried recruit 20 consultants and were told by local medical training chiefs that their supervision of junior doctors was inadequate. Comparisons with neighbouring NHS trusts showed they had all managed to recruit a nearly full complement of consultants.
Challenging the decision to downgrade
In July 2013, Gloucestershire NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG) considered the plan to downgrade Cheltenham A&E at night. Martin was the only local MP present and the only one to submit evidence based on academic medical and social research that the downgrade would be socially divisive and dangerous for higher risk groups in Cheltenham including:
- those with particularly urgent conditions such as asthma, perforated ulcers and acute peritonitis
- elderly people at risk of falls in Charlton Kings
- children at higher risk of emergency admissions from neighbourhoods including Hester’s Way, Springbank, Whaddon and St.Peter’s.
You can request a copy of Martin’s submission and the minutes of the CCG meeting by emailing email@example.com. No Conservative MP or candidate such as Costwolds MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown or new Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk (then the Conservative candidate) even bothered to turn up to the meeting or submit evidence to it. The only parliamentary candidate supporting Martin was Costwolds LibDem Cllr Paul Hodgkinson.
One committee of councillors could have influenced the decision and Cheltenham LibDem councillors Klara Sudbury and Iain Dobie asked the Health and Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee to vote for it to be made temporary at least. The only Cheltenham Conservative councillor present helped to defeat their motion, voting for the downgrade to be permanent instead.
In 2016, it was revealed that Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust was facing a serious financial deficit. Liberal Democrats in Cheltenham and in Parliament backed a substantial boost to NHS funds from a 1p increase in income tax but all local Conservative MPs backed the Chancellor’s spending plans which continue to starve the NHS of the funds it needs to restore services like Cheltenham’s A&E to full health.