Cheltenham hospital to accept 'stable' emergency patients again

image captionThe downgrading of Cheltenham's A&E department has been heavily criticised

Ambulances can start taking "stable" emergency patients to Cheltenham General Hospital again overnight from Monday.

Since July only the walking wounded have been able to go there overnight because of a shortage of A&E doctors.

All ambulances have been going to the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital eight miles (13km) away instead.

Campaigners said they hoped the "partial U-turn" would lead to a full service coming back to the town.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust said the "stable" emergency patients would not be treated in A&E, but at an acute admissions unit.

'Not changed'

He said: "The night time changes to the emergency department at Cheltenham were devised by our clinical staff to provide more robust senior cover and a better and safer service for patients.

"This has not changed and patients with life threatening conditions will continue to be treated at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital where these changes are having a positive impact on patients' outcomes.

"As part of the original consultation that we staged earlier in the year we said we would work on developing an admissions pathway for stable medical patients so that those from the east of the county could access Cheltenham General Hospital for more stable, medical care.

"That's exactly what we are doing now. As planned we opened a new assessment unit at Cheltenham in August and we are now in the position to be able to see a wider case mix of patients."

Over the summer the change was heavily criticised by politicians who said the public consultation process was "deeply flawed" and had "real weaknesses".

Some 200 people also took part in a town centre protest and the town's Chamber of Commerce had threatened a judicial review over the plans.

'Finer details'

Michael Ratcliffe, chief executive of Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce, said: "If this is the first step on the road back to common sense prevailing I'm very pleased indeed, because in fact it does affect some 200,000 residents of North Gloucestershire."

And Martin Horwood, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, said: "I think now that they've had to make a partial U-turn they ought to reconsider the whole plan, look again at their recruitment in particular, and see if we can't restore the full service at Cheltenham."

Ian Whitton, a UNISON spokesman for ambulance staff in Gloucestershire, gave the move a cautious welcome.

He said: "We hope that it will reduce the amount of patients who have to travel excessive journeys.

"But we have yet to see the fine details of the category of patients they will accept and we have to remember that it's still not a full service and those that are critically ill still face a long journey."

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