Emergency surgery could be taken away from Cheltenham General Hospital, a leaked document has revealed.
Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation NHS Trust, which runs it, has published a draft strategic planning document for the next five years.
One of the points raised is a proposal to centralise emergency surgery in either Cheltenham General Hospital or Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in about two years time.
Yesterday, the trust refused to comment on which of the two sites would be used if emergency operations were to take place in only one of the sites.
And it insisted that the document had been put out internally just to stimulate discussion among clinical staff in the surgical division.
But campaigners already dismayed at what they regarded as the downgrading of Cheltenham General’s accident and emergency department – via the switching of night-time ambulance emergencies to Gloucester – were alarmed at the news.
They feared another switch to the city’s hospital.
Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Conservatives in Cheltenham, Alex Chalk, was sent the leaked document.
He said: “It could mean radically reducing surgery facilities for patients here in Cheltenham.
“Given the seriousness of these proposals, it’s essential that there is greater transparency about this process. We need to understand what is being suggested and why.
“The trust needs to be frank about some basic questions. Which is the favoured hospital for a centralised surgery service? Is it Cheltenham or Gloucester? Then it needs to explain why centralisation is a good idea.”
Alex is on the board of campaign group Restore Emergency at Cheltenham Hospital (REACH) which was formed to challenge the A&E downgrade.
He claimed the future and viability of Cheltenham General as an acute centre had been thrown into doubt.
Cheltenham’s Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood said the news would “further damage confidence” in the town’s hospital and increase suspicion that there is a long-term plan to downgrade it.
He added that it seemed the trust was “not really being as open with us as possible”.
But the trust played down the significance of the document, saying it was “not something that has any power to enact change as it has not been presented to our board, even as a draft proposal.”
Consultant surgeon Aidan Fowler, chief of service in the surgical division, said: “This draft document has been widely circulated to colleagues within our division with a view to considering all the options that could improve pathways for our patients in the future. I am disappointed that it has been interpreted as if it were a statement of intention for the future direction of our division, which it is certainly not.”
The trust said any change in the location of emergency operations would be subject to public scrutiny and added: “We reiterate our commitment to retaining two thriving hospitals in Cheltenham and Gloucester.”
David Perry, of the 38 Degrees health campaign group in Gloucestershire, said: “A hospital that loses A&E is on the track to losing other hospital departments.”