County council suspends scrutiny of controversial hospital plans due to legal proceedings
By James Young | 18th April 2019
Legal proceedings have been launched to challenge plans to move major abdominal surgery away from Cheltenham General Hospital.
A cross-party campaign group called REACH (Restore Emergency at CGH Ltd) is apposing the change that would see the surgery moved to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in September.
In the hours after the news was released Gloucestershire County Council announced that they have suspended the work of their scrutiny task and finish group looking into the matter.
The decision to seek a judicial review follows an unprecedented letter sent by 57 senior doctors to the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust expressing concerns over the move.
The plans have also been heavily criticised by both the current and former MPs for Cheltenham, who say the plan will be detrimental to patients across the region.
Under the proposal all major general surgery would be transferred to Gloucester.
REACH say that under Department of Health guidelines regarding major changes in healthcare, there is a clear obligation for public consultation before decisions are made.
NHS organisations are also required to consult statutory bodies such as the local health and care overview committee.
REACH say that the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust is "intentionally mislabelling the major change as a 'pilot' in order to circumvent their statutory duty."
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Michael Ratcliffe chair of REACH said: "While we regret that it has come to a legal challenge, the Trust's immediate intentions have left us with no choice.
"There has been a serious failure of due process, lack of transparency and lack of consultation.
"Shifting all major emergency and elective general surgery to GRH would be a grave mistake, and is strongly opposed by many eminent doctors.
"This 'pilot' also appears to be a full-blown service delivery change in all but name.
"So we make no apology for fighting these proposals tooth and nail, on behalf of the people of Gloucestershire and surrounding counties."
That view was shared by Cheltenham's Conservative current MP Alex Chalk and his Liberal Democrat predecessor and current borough councillor Martin Horwood.
"I have made it crystal clear to the Trust that I cannot support this 'pilot'," Chalk said.
When I raised my concerns last September, I was given assurances that an alternative proposal - so-called 'Option 4' involving the retention of major elective general surgery in Cheltenham - would be fully assessed before the Trust's 'pilot' goes live.
"I'm afraid that their promises have not been honoured. In light of this pending judicial review, the Trust should pause and reconsider its position."
Cllr. Martin Horwood, who is a member of the Gloucestershire HCOSC added: "Members of HCOSC have raised concerns that this "pilot" is effectively irreversible and therefore a permanent change in healthcare provision.
"I was astounded that the Trust presented this plan only late last year, when it was clear that they have been planning this change for a long time without proper public consultation."
When contacted by Punchline for a response to the news of a legal challenge, a Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust issued a statement.
It said: "We have received legal correspondence regarding our proposals to pilot changes to General Surgery at Gloucestershire Royal and Cheltenham General Hospitals and we will respond in line with our usual protocol.
"We are committed to providing the best possible care for our patients both now and into the future. In doing so we continue to carefully consider how best we can use both our main hospital sites for the benefit of all patients in Gloucestershire."
The county council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee established a scrutiny task and finish group to look into the matter in February.
That group was due to report back in May, but the chair of the group councillor Carole Allway Martin confirmed it had been suspended.
Cllr Allaway-Martin said: "This is an extremely important issue and one that the group were keen to consider in detail but, with the potential of judicial review there was little choice other than to suspend work on the subject until these matters have been resolved."
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