Cheltenham General Hospital's A&E department could remain closed until March 2021 due to Covid-19

Cheltenham's Emergency Department was turned into a temporary Minor Injuries Unit in June 2020. Credit: ITV West Country

The Accident and Emergency Department at Cheltenham General Hospital could remain closed until March 2021.

It was shut temporarily in June 2020 with emergency admissions directed to the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Gloucester, eight miles away.

The original decision was made by the NHS trust that manages the hospitals to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. It was aimed at reducing transmission of the virus between patients and to maximise non-Covid-19 care.

Cheltenham A&E was turned into a Minor Injury and Illness Unit (MIIU), operating from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, initially for a period of three months.

That three months is now up but, with fears that there will be a second wave of coronavirus cases, managers want to extend the temporary closure to the end of March.

The Trust says it will not compromise on the safety of patients or staff. Credit: ITV West Country

A joint statement from Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and NHSGloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group says: "It is the view of clinicians working in the service that if we were to reverse the temporary changes then our ability to deliver emergency and planned care during a winter period that could include a second wave of COVID-19 infections would be reduced not improved.

"This is particularly true of changes made to A&E because, whilst a small proportion of A&E activity could move back to Cheltenham General Hospital if it was reopened, it would require a larger proportion of staff to also move back reducing our ability to manage overall demand and undermine the COVID-19 safety measures we have in place in the department."

Credit: ITV West Country

The campaign group REACH - Restore Emergency at Cheltenham Hospital - is concerned that the coronavirus pandemic is being used as an excuse and Cheltenham A and E may never reopen.

In May, Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk said: "Common sense tells you that the longer any service is suspended, the more difficult it is to reinstate."

A health overview and scrutiny committee will meet on Tuesday 15 September to discuss and vote on the proposals.