Shortage of doctors means A&E care u-turn 'unlikely'
ANY u-turn on a decision to strip Cheltenham General Hospital of its full emergency care service is unlikely as long as there remains a shortage of doctors willing to work in A&E.
The claims from the county's leading light on emergency care, Dr Tom Llewellyn, will dash the hopes of a steering group set up by the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce to try for a reversal on an A&E reconfiguration that came into force this month.
Extreme pressure and long, unsociable hours have been seen as main factors behind a shortage of middle grade doctors.
And the problem is being felt nationwide, not just in Gloucestershire.
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The steering group, led by Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce chief executive Michael Ratcliffe is considering calling for a judicial review into the decision.
But until more doctors are willing to work in A&E, Cheltenham General will remain a nurse-led emergency unit for walk in casualties only and closed to ambulance drop-offs at night.
Emergency medical consultant Dr Tom Llewellyn said the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust would maintain talks with people concerned with the changes.
"The changes are working okay, a lot of planning has gone into it," he said. "In general people are getting used to the new conditions.
"We will see how this settles in. The Trust has been talking to the chamber of commerce.
"We appreciate people's concerns. But we are only doing these things to make it safer.
"Yes, some patients will have to travel further for their care, but they will see more staff and more experienced staff. That balance is what it is all about.
"It is not about money. There are just not enough middle grade doctors available at consultant level. They just are not out there to employ."
Mr Ratcliffe, from the chamber of commerce, said: "The option to take the decision to a Judicial Review is still being actively considered.
"The decision to down grade the A&E department at Cheltenham General Hospital does not just affect over 120,000 people in Cheltenham, it also affects 80,000 people in Tewkesbury Borough and thousands in the North Cotswold area.
"We should remember that if Gloucester cannot cope with all the emergency ambulances sent to them, then the next nearest hospital is probably Bristol, not Cheltenham.
"We will work together to get a fully functioning A&E department at Cheltenham General Hospital."
The steering group is campaigning to get a fully staffed and fully functioning A&E Department reinstated at Cheltenham General Hospital 24 hours a day as soon as possible.
David Perry, from anti-NHS cuts campaigners 38 Degrees, said his group was supporting their efforts.
"38 Degrees Gloucestershire is delighted to be part of such an influential group coming together to challenge the Clinical Commissioning Group to follow due process in arriving at decisions on behalf of the people of Gloucestershire," he said.
"We look for far more transparency in future."