The campaign for Cheltenham A&E

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.

 

The background

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 martin@martinhorwood.net.  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.

Fairer society

Liberal Democrats in government locally and nationally have worked hard for a fairer society as well as a stronger economy, including tax breaks for those on low pay, delivering the pupil premium now worth a million pounds a year to Cheltenham schools and targeted at the least well-off kids, more free childcare, the first net increase in British social housing in 30 years – and the first new social housing in Cheltenham for decades.

In coalition government at national level between 2010 and 2015, the Liberal Democrats were the champions of fairness.  Many of these successful LibDem policies would never have been implemented if the Conservatives had won seats like Cheltenham and an overall majority in 2010 as they did in 2015:

  • The first £11,500 you earn is now tax-free.  By raising this allowance during the coalition, Lib Dems took 4,000 of the lowest paid Cheltonians out of income tax altogether (they had paid tax under the previous Labour government on an income of just £6,475 a year), and gave a tax break worth £800 a year to nearly 50,000 more.  LibDems still want the government to go further and make at least the first £12,500 you earn tax-free.
  • The LibDem pupil premium now pays money to schools to spend as they wish on helping the least well-off kids.  Schools facing the biggest challenges in Cheltenham now have the help they need to succeed: a quarter of a million pounds each to All Saints Academy in Hester’s Way and to Pittville School and hundreds of thousands each to primary schools like Springbank Primary, Oakwood School, Rowanfield Infants and Juniors and St Thomas More. The money has been spent on extra teaching, special support for struggling pupils, parental outreach, behavioural support, breakfast clubs and much more.

    Martin shares a healthy drink with Oakwood School pupils – just one of the many Cheltenham schools now benefitting from the Lib Dem pupil premium
  • Nick Clegg personally championed extending free childcare to 15 hours a week for all 3 and 4 year olds and least well-off 2 year olds
  • The ‘triple lock’ on the state pension increases it by earnings, prices or 2.5% whichever is the greatest.  This policy led directly to the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension and restored the link with earnings broken long ago by Mrs Thatcher.
  • Equality under the law for gay and lesbian citizens, including equal marriage.
  • The first net increase in UK council and housing association homes in 30 years – up 47,000 compared to a net loss of social housing of 420,000 under Blair & Brown’s Labour government, and a net loss of a million under the previous Tory government.
  • The historic achievement of the 40 year old target of spending just 0.7% of our national income on helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.  This helped millions of Syrian refugees, a million people threatened with Ebola, 77 million kids vaccinated against measles and rubella, 120 million against polio, millions more sleeping under 9 million anti-malarial bed nets.  The 0.7% goes up or down with what the economy can afford  and right now we’re legislating for it to be fixed in law.

And not just that – we stopped the Conservatives from:

  • Introducing fire-at-will rights for employers as recommended by the Beecroft Report
  • Ditching the Human Rights Act
  • Raising the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million, giving a tax break to wealthier families
  • Introducing profit-making schools as advocated by Michael Gove
  • Introducing lower regional pay for public sector workers in regions like the west of England
  • Implementing a worse tuition fees deal for students which could have meant unlimited fees, payback at a lower pay threshold for graduates and less well-off graduates paying more
  • Making even more drastic cuts in public services and benefits

Locally, the LibDems have promoted a fairer Cheltenham too:

  • LibDem-led Cheltenham has seen the first new social housing for decades in Brighton Road and St.Paul’s and over 80 former garage sites across town – and there’s more new affordable housing planned at the Brewery and North Place and more at St.Paul’s too.
  • The LibDem council has invested over decades in neighbourhood and community projects in Hesters Way, Springbank, Whaddon and St.Paul’s, helping local regeneration and providing hubs for local clubs, services, residents’ organisations and small businesses
  • Despite big cuts to its budget, Cheltenham’s LibDem council froze both council tax and local car park charges for five years in a row, helping everyone’s daily cost of living
  • Martin and his casework team took up thousands of individual cases over the years as well, helping people challenge unfair laws and rules or poor decisions or treatment at the hands of companies, regulators, hospitals, councils, government ministries, colleges, schools or hospitals. All for no charge.