Just as Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North, was launching a Mayday4Mayday campaign over the weekend, he saw his efforts to save the Accident & Emergency and maternity departments at Croydon’s largest hospital attacked by the Conservative MP for the neighbouring constituency, Gary Barlow.
“Gavin Barwell”, as he is sometimes known, the MP for Croydon Central, claimed that GPs from the borough had given him and Reed a confidential briefing in which they were advised that they should back the closure of St Helier Hospital’s A&E and maternity units in order to secure investment at Mayday to cope with demand from the borough of Sutton.
Barwell has refused to support the campaign to defend Mayday, but appears prepared to sacrifice important local A&E provision at St Helier. Reed is against any A&E unit being closed in south-west London.
“The population is too large for that to be a reasonable proposition,” Reed said.
Reed recognises that the Croydon hospital, of the three south-west London hospitals being considered for the loss of A&E and maternity units, has so far been “the least preferred option”.
However, Reed also believes that while the focus of attention over hospital closures in the area has been on St Helier, unless the people of Croydon are rallied to support the services at their local A&E and maternity departments, “the Government may come to see Croydon as the easy option for closure”.
Reed feels that the previous consultation on the St Helier closure was abandoned because of the public outcry over the proposal in Sutton. “We need to make some noise around Croydon, that people will not allow our vital services to be taken away from us,” Reed said.
“It beggars belief that the borough with the biggest population in London could lose its A&E.”
Reed concedes that specialisms such as stroke recovery treatment can be centralised with improved health outcomes, but he does not agree that that is the case with A&E provision, where every minute saved in getting patients to treatment can be vital in saving lives.
At the 2010 General Election, it was Barwell who said he would oppose the removal of the stroke specialism at Mayday and seek to secure an improved 24-hour stroke facility.
When the then shadow health minister Andrew Lansley visited Mayday just before the election, Barwell wrote that he had “… made it clear that a Conservative government would scrap NHS London‘s plans to downgrade Mayday and allow GPs, in consultation with their patients, to ensure that local communities get the services they need – and in particular that he would support the development of a hyper acute stroke unit at Mayday, something I have been campaigning for. At the moment, people from Croydon are taken to St George’s in Tooting for such care – as they will be for an increasing range of services if Labour get their way and Mayday is downgraded.”
And while Barwell’s promise for the stroke unit has not been delivered, he now appears to be backing the closure of the maternity unit at St Helier where his former party leader, John Major, was born.
On stroke treatment, London NHS surgeons want to follow the example from Canada, where the Ontario Stroke Strategy saw units concentrated in centres of excellence and achieved improved outcomes for patients.
But although clinicians argue that there should be concentrated centres in south-west London for trauma, Reed feels that A&Es serving “short-term and critical needs” at all the current south-west London hospital sites are needed.
Barwell sought to undermine Mayday4Mayday by breaking the terms of a confidential briefing from senior GPs in the borough, to claim that the Labour MP’s campaign runs counter to the doctors’ advice.
In a set of late night Twitter messages, Barwell told Reed, “You’re taking a different position from our GPs.”
And Barwell added, “Happy to work with you to oppose closure of services at Croydon but you were given clear advice by our GPs.”
Barwell then broke the confidential briefing from doctors when he published a challenge to Reed on the social media network: “closure of St Helier A&E + Maternity & investment in Croydon as supported by our GPs. Will you follow it?”
It is not known whether Croydon GPs do indeed support the closure of any A&E or maternity units at St Helier or elsewhere in south London, as Barwell asserted.
Barwell’s backing for the closure of St Helier’s units will be an embarrassment for Sutton Tories who will be competing with the LibDems next May for control of the council in the borough, and who have been actively defending services at their hospital.
Barwell accuses Reed of hypocrisy on the issue, saying that while he has launched the Mayday4Mayday campaign, he did not object during the GPs’ private briefing. “He sat there and didn’t question a word of it,” Barwell said.
On Twitter, Reed responded by saying that Barwell’s “… reference to, then misrepresentation of, a confidential conversation shows a lack of integrity”. Reed said it was “both a breach of confidentiality and untrue. I’ve got note of all answers to my questions.
“Perhaps you think referring to a *confidential* briefing by health professionals shows integrity. I don’t,” Reed fired back at Barwell.
Barwell continued to refer to the confidential briefing. “Why do you think you should be allowed to take one line in private and another line in public?”
He added: “And you *still* haven’t explained why you’re taking a different position from our GPs.”
With the NHS a guaranteed hot issue at both next May’s local elections and the 2015 General Election, Gavin “Boy Band” Barwell’s late night Twitter activity may yet come back to haunt him and his Tory colleagues in Sutton and in Croydon. “Maybe it’s time for Barwell to act his age, and act like an MP,” one seasoned observer of local matters said today.
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