Originally published 20 September 2016.
The announcement today that Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust is in a 'significantly worse' financial situation than was previously understood and that - far from being in surplus - it is millions in the red, has been described as 'alarming', a threat to local services and part of a looming financial catastrophe for the whole NHS by a local Liberal Democrat who campaigned to keep many hospital services in Cheltenham. Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Martin Horwood was the town's MP before 2015 and led popular campaigns to keep Cheltenham's maternity ward and it's A&E department open.
Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust today announced that, following concerns about deteriorating cashflow and an 'independent review of its financial position', it will not deliver its projected year-end surplus of £5.3m but instead end the year with a 'material deficit'. The Trust says it was already £11m in the red by the end of August. Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust runs both Cheltenham General Hospital and Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
Martin Horwood said: 'This is really alarming and exactly the kind of situation we found ourselves in back in 2006 under the last Labour government. Then it was Gordon Brown tightening the screws on local NHS trusts. Now it's Theresa May. But we thought Cheltenham and Gloucester were somehow riding out the storm better than their neighbouring hospitals. Despite the squeeze, they seemed to be confident of a surplus this year. Now it turns out that isn't true. They are just as much part of the wider crisis as everyone else.'
'What is really worrying is that when this happened in 2006, we suddenly faced 26 different cuts and closures including the proposed closure of the maternity ward in Cheltenham. A&E looked certain to be next on the list. We had to run a huge campaign to protect those services. I went on the attack in parliament and it's thanks to the popular campaign that we stopped many of the worst cuts taking place.'
'This is exactly the kind of financial environment in which hasty decisions get taken to downgrade services and close units. Cheltenham and Gloucester are particularlty vulnerable because they are two district general hospitals just 8 miles apart and the accountants can always make the case for closing a service on one site and transferring it to the other. Sometimes that makes sense - for instance the centralisation of oncology and vascular surgery in Cheltenham. But there are some services - particularly those which local people need to find in a hurry like A&E and maternity - that just don't travel and we need to protect those at all costs.'
'But the bigger picture is why so many NHS trusts are now in deficit. An independent report by the King's Fund recently found that between 2009/10 and 2012/13, NHS providers like ourt hospitals trust had together ended each year with a surplus of around £500 million but that the situation is now deteriorating rapidly and last year NHS providers went £2.5 billion into the red. I'm afraid Jeremy Hunt has been so busy fighting with the junior doctors he hasn't spotted the much bigger issue: a looming financial catastrophe for the whole NHS that was staring him in the face. This is now going to threaten local hospital services all over the country and we now know Cheltenham won't be immune.'
- Today's announcement from Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust can be found here
- The King's Fund report on the growing number of deficits across the NHS can be found here
- Martin Horwood's campaigns to protect local NHS services over the years can be found here