CLOSING Cheltenham's accident and emergency department is inevitable, a GP has warned.
Dr Phillip Fielding, who is based at the Royal Well Surgery, said the idea of centralising the county's A&E services in Gloucester had already been discussed by GPs and county health chiefs.
The news will increase speculation surrounding the future of the A&E department at Cheltenham General Hospital after concerns were raised by MP Martin Horwood earlier this month. But leaders at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have repeatedly stressed A&E departments at Cheltenham General and Gloucestershire Royal hospitals were safe from closure. The stance was reiterated yesterday by a senior consultant who said there were "no plans" on the table to close either department.
But Dr Fielding, who is chairman of the county's local medical committee, said that, although it would be a bitter pill to swallow, centralising A&E services was the best option to ensure the highest standards of care remained available to patients.
He said: "It all goes back to the question of how to maintain the best standard of service locally.
"In an ideal world we would be able to maintain that standard at A&E departments in both Cheltenham and Gloucester.
"But we may have to accept that it's not possible in the current climate.
"The trouble is that medical procedures are getting more complicated and the risks involved in many operations are getting greater.
"Although it is regrettable, with the resources available it's inevitable that specialist services will be best carried out on central sites, where all the best training is available."
He added that there would be gains and losses on both sides in any moves to restructure services.
"Some services will come over to Cheltenham from Gloucester, such as oncology, but A&E is likely to be centralised in Gloucester," he said.
"It means people will have to change how they think about the service. It also means we will have to depend on our ambulance services to get people to hospital quickly.
"The most important thing is to preserve the highest standards possible."
The sobering message comes after the hospitals' managers promised to carry out extensive public consultation to find out what kind of services people wanted amidst any moves to restructure.
Details of the consultation will be made public tomorrow.
Mr Horwood said given the demand at county A&E departments it would be a "bizarre" time to downgrade them.
Dr Tom Llewellyn, emergency medicine consultant at the trust, said there had been ongoing discussions with clinicians on how best to overcome challenges and ensure patients received the best care.
He said: "There are no plans to close either of our A&E departments, but we will publish proposals soon for public engagement, setting out how we think services could develop."